In this lesson, you’ll discover the meaning of alkaline and hydrolysis. You’ll also be reminded of what RNA is, and you’ll learn what exactly alkaline hydrolysis of RNA is and how it works.
What Is Hydrolysis?
Water, water everywhere.
Water is everywhere in and around us. We use water to do a multitude of things, from showering to laundry to cooking. Speaking of cooking, have you ever made something and ended up with it stuck all over the pan? What was the easiest way to get the gunk off? Usually, soaking the pan in water overnight easily removes the gunk.Hydrolysis is similar to soaking a pan in water to remove stuck on gunk. ‘Hydro’ means water and ‘lysis’ means to break down; thus hydrolysis is using water to separate molecules.
In the case of hydrolysis, it often breaks a covalent bond. Covalent bonds are one way atoms attach to each other, like two people handcuffed together. So if hydrolysis has to do with water, what does alkaline mean?
What Are Alkalines?
Water (H2O) is composed of two hydrogens (H) and one oxygen (O), and when separated it becomes a proton (H+) and a hydroxide ion (OH-).When H2O is used to break bonds, often the H+ will go with one molecule while the OH- goes with the other.
The components of water are frequently separated and found in other molecules, like hydrochloric acid (HCl) and sodium hydroxide (NaOH).If you add HCl to water, the number of H+ molecules present in the solution will be more than the OH- and Cl-. The opposite becomes true with the addition of NaOH to water; there is more OH- in the solution than H+ or Na+. Scientists like to measure the amount of H+ in a solution and give the solution a value called pH, which indicates the relative amount of H+ present.When equal amounts of H+ and OH- are present, like with water, the pH is around 7.0 and the solution is considered neutral.
A low pH indicates that the solution has lots of H+ and is termed acidic. Lemon juice, for example, is acidic since it has a pH around 2.When few H+ are present and there is more OH- floating around, the pH is high. Alkaline is a condition where the pH is high.
Bleach, for instance, has a pH of around 13 and can be considered alkaline. Now that we know what hydrolysis and alkaline are, let’s talk RNA.
What Is RNA?
Surely with all the hype about forensic science, you’ve heard of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). So it’s time to talk about that other nucleic acid, RNA. Ribonucleic acid, or RNA, is also very important in the functioning of cells, your body, and life as we know it. It’s responsible for making proteins and acts as a translator, messenger, and even gene activator. It’s the difference between DNA and RNA that makes this possible, despite the fact that RNA is just like DNA in many aspects.
RNA can form a helical structure like DNA and, though usually single-stranded, can be double-stranded at times. It has a phosphate (PO4) backbone that connects to different nucleosides. Nucleosides are a sugar and a base.There are four main bases for DNA, and RNA has almost the same bases, except instead of thymine (T), it uses uracil (U). There is also one big difference in the sugars of RNA and DNA. RNA’s sugar, called ribose, has an extra alcohol (OH) group that DNA doesn’t have.
It may not seem like much, but this is one of the main reasons why RNA functions so much differently from DNA. It’s also what makes it more vulnerable to attack than DNA.
What Is Alkaline Hydrolysis of RNA?
The extra OH on the RNA sugar is RNA’s Achilles’ heel when it comes to changes in pH, especially in alkaline solutions. When RNA is exposed to alkaline solutions, the higher amount of OH- floating around just loves to go after other OH groups. Note that the OH- is rather unhappy since O likes to always have two friends. Alcohol groups (OH) are happy because the O has another friend.
Since RNA has an OH readily available, the OH- steals away an H so it will live happily ever after as H2O.The O from the OH group, meanwhile, is left destitute and hungry for companionship. It seduces P from the phosphate (PO4) backbone, causing the PO4 group to break relations with one of its sugar partners and attach to it. The PO4 group is now bound in two places to the same sugar. This causes a strand break in the RNA.The next time the broken RNA sees H2O, a bond between PO4 and the sugar is broken so that the group is only tied to the sugar by one bond, and the OH group is restored.
But it doesn’t mean that the two strands will get back together.Alkaline hydrolysis of RNA is, in short, when exposed to alkaline conditions.In more detail, it’s the whole process of:
- The OH- attacking the ribose’s OH group
- The formation of water and attachment of the phosphate group to the H-less O
- The breaking of the bond between the phosphate group and one of its sugars, and
- With water, the return of OH to the ribose and the PO4 with one bond to the sugar
Let’s review all that we’ve learned here. Hydrolysis is the action of water breaking the covalent bonds that hold two molecules together,covalent bonds being one way atoms attach to each other, like two people handcuffed together. Alkaline is when the pH, a measurement of proton (H+) amount, is high (with a pH above 7), and pH is the amount of H+ in a solution which gives the solution a value.
In alkaline solutions, the amount of hydroxide ion (OH-) often outweighs the amount of H+. Conversely, a low pH indicates that the solution has lots of H+ and is termed acidic.Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is a nucleic acid that’s responsible for making proteins and acts as a translator, messenger, and even gene activator. It has a phosphate backbone connecting nucleosides, which are a sugar and a base. One main difference between DNA and RNA is the alcohol (OH) attached to RNA’s sugar, ribose.
When exposed to alkaline conditions, a process called alkaline hydrolysis takes place. In this process, the high amount of OH- attacks the ribose OH and causes a shifting of bonds such that the phosphate (PO4) backbone breaks, creating a strand break. With the addition of water, the ribose OH is reformed, and the phosphate is bonded to one sugar.