DNA Double-Helix Structure

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The molecular structure of D N A is shown. D N A consists of two antiparallel strands twisted in a double helix. The phosphate backbone is on the outside, and the nitrogenous bases face one another on the inside.  The bases appear as strands between the phosphate backbone of the double helix.
Native DNA is an anti-parallel double helix. The phosphate backbone (indicated by the curvy lines) is on the outside, and the bases are on the inside. Each base from one strand interacts via hydrogen bonding with a base from the opposing strand. (credit: Jerome Walker/Dennis Myts)

OpenStax Biology 2e

DNA has a double-helix structure. The sugar and phosphate lie on the outside of the helix, forming the DNA’s backbone. The nitrogenous bases are stacked in the interior, like a pair of staircase steps. Hydrogen bonds bind the pairs to each other. Every base pair in the double helix is separated from the next base pair by 0.34 nm. The helix’s two strands run in opposite directions, meaning that the 5′ carbon end of one strand will face the 3′ carbon end of its matching strand. (Scientists call this an antiparallel orientation and is important to DNA replication and in many nucleic acid interactions.)

– What is the process by which the interactions between the strands of the double helix are broken, separating the two nucleic acid strands?

Only certain types of base pairing are allowed. For example, a certain purine can only pair with a certain pyrimidine. This means A can pair with T, and G can pair with C, as the image below shows. This is the base complementary rule. In other words, the DNA strands are complementary to each other. If the sequence of one strand is AATTGGCC, the complementary strand would have the sequence TTAACCGG. During DNA replication, each strand copies itself, resulting in a daughter DNA double helix containing one parental DNA strand and a newly synthesized strand.

– What is a method widely used in molecular biology to rapidly make millions to billions of copies of a specific DNA sample, allowing scientists to take a very small sample of DNA and amplify it to a large enough amount to study in detail?

Hydrogen bonding between thymine and adenine and between guanine and cytosine is shown. Thymine forms two hydrogen bonds with adenine, and guanine forms three hydrogen bonds with cytosine. The phosphate backbones of each strand are on the outside and run in opposite directions.
In a double stranded DNA molecule, the two strands run antiparallel to one another so that one strand runs 5′ to 3′ and the other 3′ to 5′. The phosphate backbone is located on the outside, and the bases are in the middle. Adenine forms hydrogen bonds (or base pairs) with thymine, and guanine base pairs with cytosine.

Source: OpenStax Biology 2e
DNA is a relatively rigid polymer, typically modelled as a worm-like chain. It has three significant degrees of freedom; bending, twisting, and compression, each of which cause certain limits on what is possible with DNA within a cell. Twisting-torsional stiffness is important for the circularisation of DNA and the orientation of DNA bound proteins relative to each other and bending-axial stiffness is important for DNA wrapping and circularisation and protein interactions. Compression-extension is relatively unimportant in the absence of high tension.


Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/biology-2e




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