I always thought that a molecule of DNA was made of two polynucleotides each making up one strand of the molecule... Is that right?

  • $\begingroup$ One polynucleotide: one molecule of DNA. One DNA "strand": one polynucleotide: one molecule of DNA. Two DNA "strands": two polynucleotides: two molecules of DNA. $\endgroup$
    – user37894
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 16:35
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ No, you're wrong. One molecule of DNA is made of two polynucleotides. You should have a look at this: biology.stackexchange.com/questions/66343/… . $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 18:22
  • $\begingroup$ Look, i have been working with computational models of DNA molecules since 2009. i look at and analyze structure, dynamics, and energy of DNA molecules daily. i have given you the right answer. What you do with it is up to you. $\endgroup$
    – user37894
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ @MartinKlvana Being more assertive, stating i have given you the right answer or making an argument from authority by appealing to your experience is not how you convince anyone of anything. On the other hand, Mark pointed to a post offering evidence of authors clearly defining a molecule of DNA as being made of two strands. If you disagree with this terminology and think that most authors use the term differently , please respectfully suggest your own answer at the linked post. $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 0:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Mark This post seems to contradict your claim would be better than No, you're wrong. Martinklvana would probably had reacted differently if your opposition was made in less absolute terms. Note that when dealing with questions of terminology, it is better not go into absolute certainty as different authors may use the same word differently. $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 0:14

3 Answers 3


The term molecule was coined by chemists to describe small entities in which the atoms are joined by covalent bonds. When one is talking about large biological entities involving non-covalent bonds (proteins, nucleic acids) the strict definition often conflicts with the way one conceptualizes these entities, and this has led to common usage that may strictly be regarded as incorrect. However the definition of a molecule is of no real concern to molecular biologists and few people care that the situation is ambiguous.

Definition of Molecule (Wikipedia)

A molecule is an electrically neutral group of two or more atoms held together by chemical bonds

By this definition double-stranded DNA consists of two molecules, and haemoglobin consists of four molecules (or perhaps eight, if one regards the haem as a separate molecule).

Use of Molecule to refer to multistrand Nucleic Acids and Proteins

Because we are often concerned with the functions of a double-stranded nucleic acid or a multi-subunit protein in its entirety, one finds them referred to as molecules by quite reputable sources. For example:

Encyclopedia Britannica

Each hemoglobin molecule is made up of four heme groups surrounding a globin group, forming a tetrahedral structure.

Protein Data Bank: Molecule of the Month

DNA is arguably one of the most beautiful molecules in living cells. Its graceful helix is pleasing to the eye. DNA is also one of the most familiar molecules, the central icon of molecular biology, easily recognized by everyone.


It would be better to spend one’s energies on more important and intellectually interesting topics concerning nucleic acids and proteins then whether only their individual strands or subunits are truly molecules.


In general, it is right since with the term DNA you commonly refer to the double-stranded DNA. However, you need to be aware that DNA may exist in different forms.

Single-stranded DNA (ssDNA), for example, is composed of only one strand of DNA, so one chain of nucleotides or one polynucleotide molecule.

Double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) is the common form of DNA found in cells and it is composed of two polynucleotide molecules.

Triple-stranded DNA (tsDNA ?) also exist, which of course, is composed of 3 polynucleotide molecules.


There are four ways to answer a question (Anguttara Nikaya); a counter-question is one of them.

When water changes its state from gas to liquid to ice does the number of water molecules in the system increase, decrease, or remain the same?

The answer is: The number of water molecules in the system remains the same. (Note: The three states of water differ by spatial arrangement of water molecules and by the number of "hydrogen bonds" between the molecules.)

Now, let's replace "water" with "deoxyribonucleic acid" (DNA) . . .

When DNA changes its state from dissociated to associated does the number of DNA molecules in the system increase, decrease, or remain the same?

The answer is: The number of DNA molecules in the system remains the same. (Note: The two states of DNA differ by spatial arrangement of DNA molecules and by the number of "hydrogen bonds" between the molecules---cf. water.)

The "water" analogy goes even further: The process of dissociation of DNA molecules is called "melting."

i melt DNA (computationally) for a living. Seriously. No kidding.

  • $\begingroup$ As you are working as a chemist (physical biochemist or whatever) you are correct. In a chemical sense the single covalently bonded chain is a molecule. However, it occurs to me that there may be a practical as well as psychological explanation for people thinking of dsDNA or multi-subunit proteins as molecules. This is the osmotic affect of these molecules. I am ashamed to admit not being certain of this, but if osmotic pressure is related to molarity, then don't these multi-chain species act as molecules? (This would indicate the equation needs restating rather than the definition.) $\endgroup$
    – David
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 13:36

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