Bases, Sugars, and Phosphates
The Bases of DNA
The four nitrogen bases found in DNA are adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine. Each of these bases are often abbreviated a single letter: A (adenine), C (cytosine), G (guanine), T (thymine). The bases come in two categories: thymine and cytosine are pyrimidines, while adenine and guanine are purines (). The pyrimidine structure is produced by a six-membered, two-nitrogen molecule; purine refers to a nine-membered, four- nitrogen molecule. As you can see, each constituent of the ring making up the base is numbered to help with specificity of identification.
Base Pairing in DNA
The nitrogen bases form the double-strand of DNA through weak hydrogen bonds. The nitrogen bases, however, have specific shapes and hydrogen bond properties so that guanine and cytosine only bond with each other, while adenine and thymine also bond exclusively. This pairing off of the nitrogen bases is called complementarity. In order for hydrogen bonding to occur at all, a hydrogen bond donor must have a complementary hydrogen bond acceptor in the base across from it. Common hydrogen bond donors include primary and secondary amine groups or hydroxyl groups. Common acceptor groups are carbonyls and tertiary amines ().
The Deoxyribose Sugar
The deoxyribose sugar in DNA is a pentose, a five-carbon sugar. Four carbons and an oxygen make up the five- membered ring; the other carbon branches off the ring. Similar to the numbering of the purine and pyrimidine rings (seen in ), the carbon constituents of the sugar ring are numbered 1'-4' (pronounced "one-prime carbon"), starting with the carbon to the right of the oxygen going clockwise (). The fifth carbon (5') branches from the 4' carbon.
A phosphate group consists of a central phosphorous surrounded by four oxygens. The phosphorous is single- bonded to three of the oxygens and double-bonded to the fourth. Due to the nature of the chemical bonds, there is a negative charge on each oxygen that has only one bond coming off of it. This negative charge accounts for the overall negative charge on the phosphate backbone of a DNA molecule.