Watson-Crick base pairing

From The School of Biomedical Sciences Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search
James Watson and Francis Crick
Figure 1.1 A-T and G-C base pairs

DNA consists of two types of bases, namely; purines and pyrimidines. There are two types of purines: adenine and guanine, as well as two types of Pyrimidines: cytosine and thymine. In the Watson-Crick DNA base pairing model a purine always binds with a pyrimidine, however, each purine binds to one particular type of pyrimidine.

Adenine (A) binds to thymine (T) whilst, guanine (G) binds to cytosine (C). However, in RNA unracil (U) is substituted for thymine (T). This base pairing is referred to as complementary base pairing, hence the base pairs are called complementary base pairs [1].  The base pairs are bound together by hydrogen bonds, although the number of H-bonds differs between base pairs. G-C base pairs are bound by three (3) hydrogen bonds whilst, A-T base pairs are bound by two (2) hydrogen bonds as illustrated in the figure on the right [2].


Watson-Crick base pairing is of very great importance as it is a deciding factor in DNA Replication [3]. It ensures that pairs form between complementary bases only. The formation of base pairs between two non-complementary bases results in gene mutations which can be detrimental to development of an organism.                      


In 1953, James D Watson and Francis Crick discovered the structure of DNA using X ray Crystallography. They worked out that DNA was a double helix using Rosalind Franklin's X ray diffraction pattern [4]. At first, it was thought that DNA was made up of many chemicals, which proved too difficult to analyse, but the researchers persisitence led to the discovery of complementary base pairing [5].


  1. Hartl D., Ruvolo M. (2012) Genetics; Analysis of Genes and Genomes, 8th edition, Burlington: Jones and Barlett.
  2. Becker., Kleinsmith., Hardin and Bertoni (2009) The World of the Cell, Seventh Edition, San Francisco: Pearson Education.
  3. Genetic Science Learning Center (2011) Build a DNA Molecule. Learn.Genetics. Available at: http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/begin/dna/builddna/. [Last assessed: 26/11/2011] University of Utah
  4. BBC NEWS. Science/Nature Available: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/2804545.stmfckLR[accessed 2 December 2011]
  5. DNA tutorial Available :http://www.dnatutorial.com/BasePairing.shtml [accessed 2 December 2011]
Personal tools