Second DNA Code Discovered Hiding Within DNA: Scientists

December 12, 2013 Updated: July 18, 2015

A second DNA code has been discovered by a group of scientists, hiding within DNA, or the genetic code.

Information within the newly discovered second DNA code changes how scientists read DNA and interpret mutations, according to Dr. John Stamatoyannopoulos, who led the team that made the discovery.

DNA was deciphered in the 1960s. This next step will change many things, said Stamatoyannopoulos, an associate professor of genome sciences and of medicine at the University of Washington.

“For over 40 years we have assumed that DNA changes affecting the genetic code solely impact how proteins are made,” he said in a statement. “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.”

DNA contains about 3 billion bases, more than 99 percent of which are the same in all human beings. “The order, or sequence, of these bases determines the information available for building and maintaining an organism, similar to the way in which letters of the alphabet appear in a certain order to form words and sentences,” according to the National Institutes of Health.

For instance, the genetic code uses a 64-letter alphabet called codons. The team found that some codons, which they refer to as duons, can have two meanings. One of the meanings relates to protein sequence, while the other relates to gene control.

Duons will change the field of disease treatment and diagnose, the team believes. 

“The fact that the genetic code can simultaneously write two kinds of information means that many DNA changes that appear to alter protein sequences may actually cause disease by disrupting gene control programs or even both mechanisms simultaneously,” said Stamatoyannopoulos.

The research was published in the December 13 issue of Science

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
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