Nucleic acids are cellular structures that allow organisms to exchange genetic information between successive generations. Nucleic acids occur in two basic forms: deoxyribonucleic acid and ribonucleic acid, which are referred to as DNA and RNA respectively. Nucleic acids are present in parent cells and are replicated and copied in preparation for transmission to offspring.
DNA and RNA both contain genetic information, but they differ in content and function. DNA is copied and then passed from the parent cells of one generation to identical cells of a successive generation. DNA contains a set of instructions that help organize and carry out specific cellular activities. When organisms reproduce, these DNA instructions pass from one generation to the next.
RNA, in contrast, helps to synthesize proteins and coordinate their movements. RNA typically receives information from DNA, which dictates the shape and function of various cells.
Nucleic acids come in two basic varieties: nucleotides and polynucleotides. Nucleotides are comprised of nucleotide monomers and are structured with three parts. All nucleotides, regardless of cell type, contain a nitrogenous base, a phosphate group, and a long chain of sugars called a five-carbon sugar. These particles link to one another through a process of dehydration synthesis and facilitate important cell functions, such as converting energy.