Difference between DNA and RNA

By Sushmita Baniya •  Created: 07/14/22 •  3 min read

DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid, and RNA stands for ribonucleic acid. DNA and RNA are polymers made up of nucleotides that consist of phosphodiester bonds, sugars, and nitrogenous bases. Ribose sugar is present in RNA, whereas deoxyribose sugar is present in DNA. The difference is in the second carbon, in which the OH group is present in ribose. As the name suggests, deoxy means devoid of oxygen, so oxygen is not present in carbon number 2 of deoxyribose sugar. i.e., only H-atom is present. Nitrogen bases are Adenine (A), Guanine (G), Cytosine (C), Uracil (U), and Thymine (T).

Thymine (T) is present in DNA only, and Uracil (U) is present in RNA only


CharacteristicsDNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid)RNA (Ribonucleic acid)
Number of strandsDNA is double-stranded RNA is single-stranded
Exception Single-stranded DNA is present in ParvovirusDouble-stranded RNA is present in Reovirus
Helical grooveIt is smaller as compared to RNAIt is larger as compared to DNA
Length of base pairingBase pairing occurs in the entire length of DNABase pairing occurs only in the helical region of RNA  (i.e., only in 50% of RNA molecules)
Structure of DNA and RNA
Structure of DNA and RNA

Nitrogen bases and pairing

Nitrogen basesAdenine (A), Guanine (G), Cytosine (C), and Thymine (T)Adenine (A), Guanine (G), Cytosine (C), and Uracil (U)
Pairing of nitrogen basesGC pairs in triple bonds and AT pairs in double bondsGC pairs in triple bonds and AU in double bonds


Sugar moiety/typeDeoxyribose sugarRibose sugar
Carbon number 2C-2 contains a Hydrogen (H) atom C-2 contains Hydroxyl (OH) group
Deoxyribose and ribose
Deoxyribose and Ribose sugar


LocationMainly in the chromatin of the cell nucleus and also in mitochondriaMainly in the cell cytoplasm (90%) and a few in the nucleolus (10%)
StateNever present in a free state in the cytoplasmMay be present in a free state


TypesBased on the location:
Nuclear DNA and Mitochondria DNA
Based on forms: A-DNA, B-DNA, C-DNA, D-DNA, E-DNA, Z-DNA
Based on function: 
mRNA (messenger RNA), tRNA (transfer RNA), and rRNA (ribosomal RNA)


CharacteristicsDNA RNA 
Number of nucleotidesIt consists of a large number of nucleotides (up to 3-4 million)It consists of a few nucleotides (up to 12000)
Molecular weightHigh molecular weight (2 to 6 million)Low molecular weight (25000 to 2 million)
AlkaliDNA is alkali stableRNA is alkali labile
TemplateDNA acts as a template for its synthesisRNA does not act as a template for its synthesis
ReplicationDNA replicates and forms DNARNA does not replicate but is synthesized from DNA
Primer Primer is required during DNA synthesisPrimer is not required during RNA synthesis
TranscriptionDNA transcribes and forms RNARNA does not transcribe
Proof-readingProof-reading is present in DNAProof-reading is absent in RNA
ExonucleaseDuring replication, exonuclease is neededDuring biosynthesis, exonuclease is not needed
MutationDNA undergoes mutationRNA does not undergo mutation
Genetic materialDNA is the usual genetic materialRNA is the genetic material of some viruses only
UV damageDNA is more susceptible to UV damage as compared to RNAResistant to UV damage as compared with DNA


  • Madigan, M. T., Martinko, J. M., Stahl, D. A., & Clark, D. P. (2011). BROCK Biology of Microorganisms (13th edition). Benjamin Cumming.
  • Pelczar Jr., M., Chan, E., & Krieg, N. (2007). Microbiology (5th edition). Tata McGraw-Hill.

Sushmita Baniya

Hello, I am Sushmita Baniya from Nepal. I am a postgraduate student of M.Sc Medical Microbiology. I am interested in Genetics and Molecular Biology.

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