Skip to main content

Molecular Biology and Molecular Genetics

Molecular biology and molecular genetics

At its most fundamental level, molecular biology is the study of biological molecules and the molecular basis of structure and function in living organisms.

Molecular biology is an interdisciplinary approach to understanding biological functions and regulation at the level of molecules such as nucleic acids, proteins, and carbohydrates. Following the rapid advances in biological science brought about by the development and advancement of the Watson-Crick model of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid ) during the 1950s and 1960s, molecular biologists studied gene structure and function in increasing detail. In addition to advances in understanding genetic machinery and its regulation, molecular biologists continue to make fundamental and powerful discoveries regarding the structure and function of cells and of the mechanisms of genetic transmission. The continued study of these processes by molecular biologists and the advancement of molecular biological techniques requires integration of knowledge derived from physics, microbiology, mathematics, genetics, biochemistry , cell biology and other scientific fields.

Molecular biology also involves organic chemistry, physics, and biophysical chemistry as it deals with the physicochemical structure of macromolecules (nucleic acids, proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates) and their interactions. Genetic materials including DNA in most of the living forms or RNA (ribonucleic acid ) in all plant viruses and in some animal viruses remain the subjects of intense study.

The complete set of genes containing the genetic instructions for making an organism is called its genome. It contains the master blueprint for all cellular structures and activities for the lifetime of the cell or organism. The human genome consists of tightly coiled threads of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and associated protein molecules organized into structures called chromosomes . In humans, as in other higher organisms, a DNA molecule consists of two strands that wrap around each other to resemble a twisted ladder whose sides, made of sugar and phosphate molecules are connected by rungs of nitrogen-containing chemicals called bases (nitrogenous bases). Each strand is a linear arrangement of repeating similar units called nucleotides, which are each composed of one sugar, one phosphate, and a nitrogenous base. Four different bases are present in DNA adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C), and guanine (G). The particular order of the bases arranged along the sugar-phosphate backbone is called the DNA sequence; the sequence specifies the exact genetic instructions required to create a particular organism with its own unique traits.

Each time a cell divides into two daughter cells, its full genome is duplicated; for humans and other complex organisms, this duplication occurs in the nucleus . During cell division the DNA molecule unwinds and the weak bonds between the base pairs break, allowing the strands to separate. Each strand directs the synthesis of a complementary new strand, with free nucleotides matching up with their complementary bases on each of the separated strands. Nucleotides match up according to strict base-pairing rules. Adenine will pair only with thymine (an A-T pair) and cytosine with guanine (a C-G pair). Each daughter cell receives one old and one new DNA strand. The cell's adherence to these base-pairing rules ensures that the new strand is an exact copy of the old one. This minimizes the incidence of errors (mutations ) that may greatly affect the resulting organism or its offspring.

Each DNA molecule contains many genes, the basic physical and functional units of heredity. A gene is a specific sequence of nucleotide bases, whose sequences carry the information required for constructing proteins, which provide the structural components of cells and as well as enzymes for essential biochemical reactions.

The chromosomes of prokaryotic microorganisms differ from eukaryotic microorganisms, in terms of shape and organization of genes. Prokaryotic genes are more closely packed and are usually is arranged along one circular chromosome.

The central dogma of molecular biology states that DNA is copied to make mRNA (messenger RNA), and mRNA is used as the template to make proteins. Formation of RNA is called transcription and formation of protein is called translation . Transcription and translation processes are regulated at various stages and the regulation steps are unique to prokaryotes and eukaryotes . DNA regulation determines what type and amount of mRNA should be transcribed, and this subsequently determines the type and amount of protein. This process is the fundamental control mechanism for growth and development (morphogenesis).

All living organisms are composed largely of proteins, the end product of genes. Proteins are large, complex molecules made up of long chains of subunits called amino acids. The protein-coding instructions from the genes are transmitted indirectly through messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA), a transient intermediary molecule similar to a single strand of DNA. For the information within a gene to be expressed, a complementary RNA strand is produced (a process called transcription) from the DNA template. In eukaryotes, messenger RNA (mRNA) moves from the nucleus to the cellular cytoplasm , but in both eukaryotes and prokaryotes mRNA serves as the template for protein synthesis .

Twenty different kinds of amino acids are usually found in proteins. Within the gene, sequences of three DNA bases serve as the template for the construction of mRNA with sequence complimentary codons that serve as the language to direct the cell's protein-synthesizing machinery. Cordons specify the insertion of specific amino acids during the synthesis of protein. For example, the base sequence ATG codes for the amino acid methionine. Because more than one codon sequence can specify the same amino acid, the genetic code is termed a degenerate code (i.e., there is not a unique codon sequence for every amino acid).

Areas of intense study by molecular biology include the processes of DNA replication, repair, and mutation (alterations in base sequence of DNA). Other areas of study include the identification of agents that cause mutations (e.g., ultra-violet rays, chemicals) and the mechanisms of rearrangement and exchange of genetic materials (e.g. the function and control of small segments of DNA such as plasmids , transposable elements, insertion sequences , and transposons to obtain recombinant DNA).

Recombinant DNA technologies and genetic engineering are an increasingly important part of molecular biology. Advances in biotechnology and molecular medicine also carry profound clinical and social significance. Advances in molecular biology have led to significant discoveries concerning the mechanisms of the embryonic development, disease, immunologic response, and evolution .

See also Immunogenetics; Microbial genetics

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Molecular Biology and Molecular Genetics." World of Microbiology and Immunology. . 22 Jan. 2019 <>.

"Molecular Biology and Molecular Genetics." World of Microbiology and Immunology. . (January 22, 2019).

"Molecular Biology and Molecular Genetics." World of Microbiology and Immunology. . Retrieved January 22, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.