Part of the TeachMe Series

Translation of DNA

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Original Author(s): Ben Warren
Last updated: 7th June 2020
Revisions: 36

Original Author(s): Ben Warren
Last updated: 7th June 2020
Revisions: 36

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Translation is a process by which the genetic code contained within a messenger RNA (mRNA) molecule is decoded to produce a specific sequence of amino acids in a polypeptide chain.

It occurs in the cytoplasm following transcription and, like transcription, has three stages: initiation, elongation and termination. In this article we will look at the components and stages of DNA translation.

Components of Translation

The key components required for translation are mRNA, ribosomes, and transfer RNA (tRNA).

During translation, mRNA nucleotide bases are read as codons of three bases. Each ‘codon’ codes for a particular amino acid. Every tRNA molecule possesses an anticodon that is complementary to the mRNA codon, and at the opposite end lies the attached amino acid. tRNA molecules are therefore responsible for bringing amino acids to the ribosome in the correct order ready for polypeptide assembly.

Fig 1 – tRNA featuring the anticodon, complementary to specific mRNA

It is important to know that a single amino acid may be coded for by more than one codon. There are also specific codons that signal the start and the end of translation.

Aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases are enzymes that link amino acids to their corresponding tRNA molecules. The resulting complex is charged and is referred to as an aminoacyl-tRNA.

Fig Aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase actively and specifically charging a tRNA

Fig 2 – Aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase actively and specifically charging a tRNA

Initiation

For translation to begin, the start codon 5’AUG must be recognised. This is a codon specific to the amino acid methionine, which is nearly always the first amino acid in a polypeptide chain.

At the 5’ cap of mRNA, the small 40s subunit of the ribosome binds. Subsequently, the larger 60s subunit binds to complete the initiation complex. The next step (elongation) can now commence.

Fig 3 – Initiation of translation showing charged Met-tRNA and the ribosome subunits at the start codon

Elongation

The ribosome has two tRNA binding sites; the P site which holds the peptide chain and the A site which accepts the tRNA.

While Methionine-tRNA occupies the P site, the aminoacyl-tRNA that is complementary to the next codon binds to the A site, using energy yielded from the hydrolysis of GTP.

Methionine moves from the P site to the A site to bond to new amino acid there, and so the growth of the peptide has begun. The tRNA molecule in the P site no longer has an attached amino acid, and so leaves the ribosome.

The ribosome then translocates along the mRNA molecule to the next codon, again using energy yielded from the hydrolysis of GTP. Now, the growing peptide lies at the P site and the A site is open for the binding of the next aminoacyl-tRNA, and the cycle continues. The polypeptide chain is built up in the direction from the N terminal (methionine) to the C terminal (the final amino acid).

Figure 4 – Elongation of the polypeptide chain

Termination

One of the three stop codons enters the A site. No tRNA molecules bind to these codons so the peptide and tRNA in the P site become hydrolysed releasing the polypeptide into the cytoplasm.

The small and large subunits of the ribosome dissociate ready for the next round of translation.

Fig Termination of translation upon encountering a stop codon at the P site

Fig 5 – Termination of translation upon encountering a stop codon at the P site