Sunday, March 30, 2008

DNA - Double Helix

The secondary structure of DNA is actually very similar to the secondary structure of proteins. The protein single alpha helix structure held together by hydrogen bonds was discovered with the aid of X-ray diffraction studies. The X-ray diffraction patterns for DNA show somewhat similar patterns.

In addition, chemical studies by E. Chargaff indicate several important clues about the structure of DNA. In the DNA of all organisms:
a) The concentration of adenine equals that of thymine.
b) The concentration of guanine equals that of cytosine.

Chargaff's findings clearly indicate that some type of heterocyclic amine base pairing exists in the DNA structure. X-ray diffraction data shows that a repeating helical pattern occurs every 34 Angstrom units with 10 subunits per turn. Each subunit occupies 3.4 Angstrom units which is the same amount of space occupied by a single nucleotide unit. Using Chargaff's information and the X-ray data in conjunction with building actual molecular models, Watson and Crick developed the double helix as a model for DNA.

The double helix in DNA consists of two right-handed polynucleotide chains that are coiled about the same axis. The heterocyclic amine bases project inward toward the center so that the base of one strand interacts or pairs with a base of the other strand. According to the chemical and X-ray data and model building exercises, only specific heterocyclic amine bases may be paired.


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