October 19, 2013

DNA Replication | MIT 7.01SC Fundamentals of Biology

DNA replication is the process of producing two identical copies from one original DNA molecule. This biological process occurs in all living organisms and is the basis for biological inheritance. DNA is composed of two strands and each strand of the original DNA molecule serves as template for the production of the complementary strand, a process referred to as semiconservative replication. Cellular proofreading and error-checking mechanisms ensure near perfect fidelity for DNA replication.

In a cell, DNA replication begins at specific locations, or origins of replication, in the genome. Unwinding of DNA at the origin and synthesis of new strands results in replication forks growing bidirectionally from the origin. A number of proteins are associated with the replication fork which assist in the initiation and continuation of DNA synthesis. Most prominently, DNA polymerase synthesizes the new DNA by adding complementary nucleotides to the template strand.

DNA replication can also be performed in vitro (artificially, outside a cell). DNA polymerases isolated from cells and artificial DNA primers can be used to initiate DNA synthesis at known sequences in a template DNA molecule. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a common laboratory technique, cyclically applies such artificial synthesis to amplify a specific target DNA fragment from a pool of DNA.