Nucleic acids are biopolymers, or small biomolecules, essential to all known forms of life. They are composed of nucleotides, which are monomers made of three components: a 5-carbon sugar, a phosphate group and a nitrogenous base. If the sugar is a compound ribose, the polymer is RNA (ribonucleic acid); if the sugar is derived from ribose as deoxyribose, the polymer is DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid).
Nucleic acids are the most important of all biomolecules. They are found in abundance in all living things, where they function to create and encode and then store information in the nucleus of every living cell of every life-form organism on Earth. In turn, they function to transmit and express that information inside and outside the cell nucleus—to the interior operations of the cell and ultimately to the next generation of each living organism. The encoded information is contained and conveyed via the nucleic acid sequence, which provides the 'ladder-step' ordering of nucleotides within the molecules of RNA and DNA.
Strings of nucleotides are bonded to form helical backbones—typically, one for RNA, two for DNA—and assembled into chains of base-pairs selected from the five primary, or canonical, nucleobases, which are: adenine, cytosine, guanine, thymine, and uracil; note, thymine occurs only in DNA and uracil only in RNA. Using amino acids and the process known as protein synthesis, the specific sequencing in DNA of these nucleobase-pairs enables storing and transmitting coded instructions as genes. In RNA, base-pair sequencing provides for manufacturing new proteins that determine the frames and parts and most chemical processes of all life forms.