Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne mRNA and tRNA Differences

Name: Linda
Status: educator
Location: CT
Country: USA
Date: Spring 2011

Do mRNA strands fold like tRNA strands do, making H bonds? If not, what prevents this from happening?

A single strand of mRNA can indeed base pair with itself. This complementary pairing forms secondary structures called stem or hairpin loops. The loops are the result of unpaired nucleotide sequences. These are critically important in tRNA; they form the anticodon that attaches to the mRNA (and works with the ribosome) to assemble proteins from amino acids.

In mRNA, loop structures can also play a role in transcription termination. The loop causes the mRNA to become disassociated from RNA polymerase, halting transcription.

On a related note, a method known as antisense technology can exploit mRNA's tendency to base pair. This is useful when a gene of interest needs to be "silenced". For example: the original gene of interest is copied and reinserted upside down and backwards. This in turn produces an antagonistic mRNA transcript that binds to the original gene's mRNA transcript. The result is double stranded RNA (dsRNA), which is immediately flagged by the cell as aberrant and targeted for destruction. Thus, the original gene product is throttled back or stopped entirely.

Dr. Tim Durham Instructor, Office of Curriculum and Instruction University Colloquium Department of Biological Sciences Florida Gulf Coast University

Click here to return to the Molecular Biology Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory