Scientists discover double meaning in genetic code

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Scientists have discovered a second code hiding within DNA. This second code contains information that changes how scientists read the instructions contained in DNA and interpret mutations to make sense of health and disease.

A research team led by Dr. John Stamatoyannopoulos, University of Washington associate professor of genome sciences and of medicine, made the discovery. The findings are reported in the Dec. 13 issue of Science. The work is part of the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements Project, also known as ENCODE. The National Human Genome Research Institute funded the multi-year, international effort. ENCODE aims to discover where and how the directions for biological functions are stored in the human genome.

Since the genetic code was deciphered in the 1960s, scientists have assumed that it was used exclusively to write information about proteins. UW scientists were stunned to discover that genomes use the genetic code to write two separate languages. One describes how proteins are made, and the other instructs the cell on how genes are controlled. One language is written on top of the other, which is why the second language remained hidden for so long.

“For over 40 years we have assumed that DNA changes affecting the genetic code solely impact how proteins are made,” said Stamatoyannopoulos. “Now we know that this basic assumption about reading the human genome missed half of the picture. These new findings highlight that DNA is an incredibly powerful information storage device, which nature has fully exploited in unexpected ways.”

Written By: UW Health Sciences and UW Medicine
continue to source article at washington.edu

12 COMMENTS

    • In reply to #1 by mcarp0:

      Isn’t this directly relevant to the David Dobbs fiasco? If we’re now going to constantly have these wild headlines, somebody needs to nip this in the bud. Oh Richard!!!!

      Oh i forgot to mention, I had just read this:

      Secret second code found hiding within human DNA

      http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/12/13/secret-second-code-found-hiding-within-human-dna/

      Isn’t that a sensational headline? Well OF COURSE there are control sequences in dna that dont code for proteins! What’s wrong with these people?

    • In reply to #1 by mcarp0:

      Isn’t this directly relevant to the David Dobbs fiasco? If we’re now going to constantly have these wild headlines, somebody needs to nip this in the bud. Oh Richard!!!!

      The actual paper (published today in Science, if you have access to the journal) is titled “Exonic transcription factor binding directs codon choice and affects protein evolution”. Not the kind of thing that really works well as a press release and gets people to actually read about it.

      Basically, from what I understand, is that they’re saying exons can both code for proteins and regulate genes.

  1. I continue to be amazed at the parallels between the genetic code and software. To the extent I understood this article (which was not much I admit) it seems to me you can say almost identical things about various codes used to store information on computers, things like XML, OWL, etc. Does anyone have a book they would recommend to go into the details of this stuff — especially from an information theory or parallels to computer science standpoint? Not as deep as a text book but something equivalent to a Selfish Gene or Pinker’s books?

  2. In reply to #6 by Jos Gibbons:

    Take it with a pinch of salt, for the reasons explained here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/emilywillingham/2013/12/13/dont-be-duped-by-duon-dna-hype/

    Even better, don’t take it at all, salt or no salt. It’s a dull and inept attempt to spruce up what is actually old news in genetics; how even non-coding parts of the DNA play a role in the way the coding parts are read off and assembled. If you already know that a gene is spread out on a DNA strand in coding bits called exons, with non-coding bits called introns in between, and that a change in the size of the introns could change how the code is read (akin to shifting a whole stretch of coding two spaces to the right when they need to be read in sets of three), then you know why non-coding bits are important for the formation of the code, and thus that this stuff is not worth the sensationalism. It’s even less ground-breaking than finding out that junk DNA actually does something other than sit there. Your linked article explains well enough why it’s old news.

    EDIT: I also just remembered how there are also genes whose sole purpose in some organisms is to regulate the activity of protein-coding in other genes. Forgot about that part originally. But this too is old news in genetics.

  3. Wish I could find the actual article. It sounded weird to me that we assumed our genetic code just stores information about proteins. Im assuming the paper was a load of bs and if so why is it on this site?

  4. ‘These new findings highlight that DNA is an incredibly powerful information storage device, which nature has fully exploited in unexpected ways’. Strange way of putting it to say the least!

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