The RNA Transcription


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During elongation, the bacterial RNA polymerase tracks along the DNA template, synthesizes mRNA in the 5’ to 3’ direction, and unwinds and rewinds the DNA as it is read.

Source: OpenStax Microbiology

OpenStax Microbiology

During the process of transcription, the information encoded within the DNA sequence of one or more genes is transcribed into a strand of RNA, also called an RNA transcript. The resulting single-stranded RNA molecule, composed of ribonucleotides containing the bases adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and uracil (U), acts as a mobile molecular copy of the original DNA sequence. Transcription in prokaryotes and in eukaryotes requires the DNA double helix to partially unwind in the region of RNA synthesis. The unwound region is called a transcription bubble. Transcription of a particular gene always proceeds from one of the two DNA strands that acts as a template, the so-called antisense strand. The RNA product is complementary to the template strand of DNA and is almost identical to the nontemplate DNA strand, or the sense strand. The only difference is that in RNA, all of the T nucleotides are replaced with U nucleotides; during RNA synthesis, U is incorporated when there is an A in the complementary antisense strand.

Transcription in Bacteria

Bacteria use the same RNA polymerase to transcribe all of their genes. Like DNA polymerase, RNA polymerase adds nucleotides one by one to the 3’-OH group of the growing nucleotide chain. One critical difference in activity between DNA polymerase and RNA polymerase is the requirement for a 3’-OH onto which to add nucleotides: DNA polymerase requires such a 3’-OH group, thus necessitating a primer, whereas RNA polymerase does not. During transcription, a ribonucleotide complementary to the DNA template strand is added to the growing RNA strand and a covalent phosphodiester bond is formed by dehydration synthesis between the new nucleotide and the last one added. In E. coli, RNA polymerase comprises six polypeptide subunits, five of which compose the polymerase core enzyme responsible for adding RNA nucleotides to a growing strand. The sixth subunit is known as sigma (σ). The σ factor enables RNA polymerase to bind to a specific promoter, thus allowing for the transcription of various genes. There are various σ factors that allow for transcription of various genes.


The initiation of transcription begins at a promoter, a DNA sequence onto which the transcription machinery bindsand initiates transcription. The nucleotide pair in the DNA double helix that corresponds to the site from which the first 5’ RNA nucleotide is transcribed is the initiation site. Nucleotides preceding the initiation site are designated
“upstream,” whereas nucleotides following the initiation site are called “downstream” nucleotides. In most cases, promoters are located just upstream of the genes they regulate. Although promoter sequences vary among bacterial genomes, a few elements are conserved. At the –10 and –35 positions within the DNA prior to the initiation site
(designated +1), there are two promoter consensus sequences, or regions that are similar across all promoters and across various bacterial species. The –10 consensus sequence, called the TATA box, is TATAAT. The –35 sequence is recognized and bound by σ.


The elongation in transcription phase begins when the σ subunit dissociates from the polymerase, allowing the core enzyme to synthesize RNA complementary to the DNA template in a 5’ to 3’ direction at a rate of approximately 40 nucleotides per second. As elongation proceeds, the DNA is continuously unwound ahead of the core enzyme and
rewound behind it.


Once a gene is transcribed, the bacterial polymerase must dissociate from the DNA template and liberate the newly made RNA. This is referred to as termination of transcription. The DNA template includes repeated nucleotide sequences that act as termination signals, causing RNA polymerase to stall and release from the DNA template,
freeing the RNA transcript.


Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: