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URMC Team Revises Understanding of Genetic Code

Friday, July 1, 2016

Grayhack lab photo

Beth Grayhack, Ph.D., with lab
members and grad students
Christina Brule and Jiyu Wang

Scientists for years have known that the genetic code found in all living things contains many layers of complexity. But new research from the University of Rochester cracks the code more deeply, clarifying for example why some genes are inefficiently translated into proteins.

In a study published in the journal Cell, the researchers, co-led by Beth Grayhack, Ph.D., of the UR School of Medicine and Dentistry, discovered the existence and identity of 17 pairs of inefficient codons (DNA nucleotides or bases) within the genetic code.

Scientists have generally considered each piece of the genetic code (or codon) as a single “word” in a language. But the new data suggests some codon combinations act as compound words or phrases whose order and pairing has a significant impact on the translation of genes into proteins.

“Consider the words ‘pancake’ versus ‘cake pan,’ “ said Grayhack, an associate professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Pediatrics, and Cancer, in the Center for RNA Biology, at the UR Medical Center.

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