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Uracil: Definition, Structure & Quiz

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Taught by

Derrick Arrington

Derrick has taught biology and chemistry at both the high school and college level. He has a master's degree in science education.

The overall structure of RNA and DNA consists of four nitrogenous bases that compose the backbone of their strands. One of these bases is known as uracil, and is found only in RNA. We will examine uracil's structure and function in this lesson.

Definition of Uracil

DNA and RNA are critical to all living things. DNA contains the genetic information that makes every living being what they are and RNA acts as a tool that enables cells to make the proper proteins.

DNA and RNA are in the form of strands of molecules. A strand of DNA is composed of four nitrogenous bases known as adenine, guanine, thymine, and cytosine. RNA is different from DNA because it does not have thymine. Instead, it has a base known as uracil.

Uracil is a colorless, crystalline organic compound that is involved in the transmission of hereditary information. While uracil can bond with all of the other bases, it readily bonds with adenine most often. It is important to note that uracil is a component in several enzymes as well. It aids in the metabolism of complex carbohydrates when part of an enzyme.

This image depicts the difference in DNA and RNA, including the presence of uracil in RNA.
An image of DNA and RNA.

When the bases found in RNA bond with other bases, guanine bonds with cytosine and uracil bonds with adenine. During the process of transcription in a cell the RNA bases align with the appropriate DNA bases to make a code. After transcription, the RNA translates the code into a form that can be used by a ribosome to make proteins. Since proteins are critical to the function of all living things, it is very important that the bases such as uracil function properly in the genetic code.

Structure of Uracil

Structurally, uracil is a pyrimidine base. This means that it has a single ring shape rather than double rings. Uracil is composed of four hydrogen, four carbon, two nitrogen, and two oxygen atoms that are bonded together.

This image depicts the single ring structure of uracil.
Image of a molecule of uracil.

This bonding pattern gives uracil a distinctive ring shape as pictured above. It enables uracil to bond freely with adenine during base pairing.

Summary of Uracil

Uracil is a nitrogenous base that is a component of RNA. It is used by RNA during the processes of transcription and translation within cells. These processes read the genetic code form DNA and instruct the cell on how to make proteins. It has a single ring structure and bonds freely with adenine.

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