Happy 50th birthday, genetic code!

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Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Nirenberg and Matthaei experiment , which was the first step in cracking the full 64-codon genetic code. The first codon that was cracked was that UUU=phenylalanine.

And from The Scientist:

On May 27, 1961, Heinrich Matthaei, a postdoc working with NIH scientist Marshal Nirenberg, placed synthetic polyuracil RNA into 20 test tubes to see what it would produce. Each tube contained cytoplasmic extract from Escherichia coli and a specific radiolabeled amino acid. Ribosomes from the tube containing labeled phenylalanine came back ‘hot,’ and the world was a step closer to understanding the genetic code.

– Terry Sharrer, “Nirenberg’s Genetic Code Chart, 1961-66” (2007-06-01)

3 Replies to “Happy 50th birthday, genetic code!

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    ,,,here is more information than you guys probably want to know:

    “A code system is always the result of a mental process (it requires an intelligent origin or inventor). It should be emphasized that matter as such is unable to generate any code. All experiences indicate that a thinking being voluntarily exercising his own free will, cognition, and creativity, is required. ,,,there is no known law of nature and no known sequence of events which can cause information to originate by itself in matter. Werner Gitt 1997 In The Beginning Was Information pp. 64-67, 79, 107.”
    (The retired Dr Gitt was a director and professor at the German Federal Institute of Physics and Technology (Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt, Braunschweig), the Head of the Department of Information Technology.)

    Biophysicist Hubert Yockey determined that natural selection would have to explore 1.40 x 10^70 different genetic codes to discover the optimal universal genetic code that is found in nature. The maximum amount of time available for it to originate is 6.3 x 10^15 seconds. Natural selection would have to evaluate roughly 10^55 codes per second to find the one that is optimal. Put simply, natural selection lacks the time necessary to find the optimal universal genetic code we find in nature. (Fazale Rana, -The Cell’s Design – 2008 – page 177)

    The DNA Code – Solid Scientific Proof Of Intelligent Design – Perry Marshall – video

    Ode to the Code – Brian Hayes
    The few variant codes known in protozoa and organelles are thought to be offshoots of the standard code, but there is no evidence that the changes to the codon table offer any adaptive advantage. In fact, Freeland, Knight, Landweber and Hurst found that the variants are inferior or at best equal to the standard code. It seems hard to account for these facts without retreating at least part of the way back to the frozen-accident theory, conceding that the code was subject to change only in a former age of miracles, which we’ll never see again in the modern world.

    Evolutionists have long argued that the genetic code is universal for all lifeforms, and maintain that that fact is strong evidence for evolution from a universal common anscestor, yet it appears they were wrong once again:

    Venter vs. Dawkins on the Tree of Life – and Another Dawkins Whopper – March 2011
    Excerpt:,,, But first, let’s look at the reason Dawkins gives for why the code must be universal:
    “The reason is interesting. Any mutation in the genetic code itself (as opposed to mutations in the genes that it encodes) would have an instantly catastrophic effect, not just in one place but throughout the whole organism. If any word in the 64-word dictionary changed its meaning, so that it came to specify a different amino acid, just about every protein in the body would instantaneously change, probably in many places along its length. Unlike an ordinary mutation…this would spell disaster.” (2009, p. 409-10)
    OK. Keep Dawkins’ claim of universality in mind, along with his argument for why the code must be universal, and then go here (linked site listing 23 variants of the genetic code).
    Simple counting question: does “one or two” equal 23? That’s the number of known variant genetic codes compiled by the National Center for Biotechnology Information. By any measure, Dawkins is off by an order of magnitude, times a factor of two.

    Deciphering Design in the Genetic Code
    Excerpt: When researchers calculated the error-minimization capacity of one million randomly generated genetic codes, they discovered that the error-minimization values formed a distribution where the naturally occurring genetic code’s capacity occurred outside the distribution. Researchers estimate the existence of 10 possible genetic codes possessing the same type and degree of redundancy as the universal genetic code. All of these codes fall within the error-minimization distribution. This finding means that of the 10 possible genetic codes, few, if any, have an error-minimization capacity that approaches the code found universally in nature.

    DNA – The Genetic Code – Optimal Error Minimization & Parallel Codes – Dr. Fazale Rana – video

    As well there is a ‘optimality’ found for the 20 amino acid set used in the ‘standard’ Genetic code when the set was compared to 1 million randomly generated alternative amino acid sets;

    Does Life Use a Non-Random Set of Amino Acids? – Jonathan M. – April 2011
    Excerpt: The authors compared the coverage of the standard alphabet of 20 amino acids for size, charge, and hydrophobicity with equivalent values calculated for a sample of 1 million alternative sets (each also comprising 20 members) drawn randomly from the pool of 50 plausible prebiotic candidates. The results? The authors noted that: “…the standard alphabet exhibits better coverage (i.e., greater breadth and greater evenness) than any random set for each of size, charge, and hydrophobicity, and for all combinations thereof.”

    Moreover the first DNA code of life on earth had to be at least as complex as the current DNA code found in life:

    Shannon Information – Channel Capacity – Perry Marshall – video

    “Because of Shannon channel capacity that previous (first) codon alphabet had to be at least as complex as the current codon alphabet (DNA code), otherwise transferring the information from the simpler alphabet into the current alphabet would have been mathematically impossible”
    Donald E. Johnson – Bioinformatics: The Information in Life

    Nick Lane Takes on the Origin of Life and DNA – Jonathan McLatchie – July 2010
    Excerpt: It appears then, that the genetic code has been put together in view of minimizing not just the occurence of amino acid substitution mutations, but also the detrimental effects that would result when amino acid substitution mutations do occur.

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    further notes:

    Though the DNA code is found to be optimal from a error minimization standpoint, it is also now found that the fidelity of the genetic code, of how a specific amino acid is spelled, is far greater than had at first been thought:

    Synonymous Codons: Another Gene Expression Regulation Mechanism – September 2010
    Excerpt: There are 64 possible triplet codons in the DNA code, but only 20 amino acids they produce. As one can see, some amino acids can be coded by up to six “synonyms” of triplet codons: e.g., the codes AGA, AGG, CGA, CGC, CGG, and CGU will all yield arginine when translated by the ribosome. If the same amino acid results, what difference could the synonymous codons make? The researchers found that alternate spellings might affect the timing of translation in the ribosome tunnel, and slight delays could influence how the polypeptide begins its folding. This, in turn, might affect what chemical tags get put onto the polypeptide in the post-translational process. In the case of actin, the protein that forms transport highways for muscle and other things, the researchers found that synonymous codons produced very different functional roles for the “isoform” proteins that resulted in non-muscle cells,,, In their conclusion, they repeated, “Whatever the exact mechanism, the discovery of Zhang et al. that synonymous codon changes can so profoundly change the role of a protein adds a new level of complexity to how we interpret the genetic code.”,,,

    The coding system used for living beings is optimal from an engineering standpoint.
    Werner Gitt – In The Beginning Was Information – p. 95

    Collective evolution and the genetic code – 2006:
    Excerpt: The genetic code could well be optimized to a greater extent than anything else in biology and yet is generally regarded as the biological element least capable of evolving.

    Here, we show that the universal genetic code can efficiently carry arbitrary parallel codes much better than the vast majority of other possible genetic codes…. the present findings support the view that protein-coding regions can carry abundant parallel codes.

    The data compression of some stretches of human DNA is estimated to be up to 12 codes thick (12 different ways of DNA transcription) (Trifonov, 1989). (This is well beyond the complexity of any computer code ever written by man). John Sanford – Genetic Entropy

    The multiple codes of nucleotide sequences. Trifonov EN. – 1989
    Excerpt: Nucleotide sequences carry genetic information of many different kinds, not just instructions for protein synthesis (triplet code)

    “In the last ten years, at least 20 different natural information codes were discovered in life, each operating to arbitrary conventions (not determined by law or physicality). Examples include protein address codes [Ber08B], acetylation codes [Kni06], RNA codes [Fai07], metabolic codes [Bru07], cytoskeleton codes [Gim08], histone codes [Jen01], and alternative splicing codes [Bar10].
    Donald E. Johnson – Programming of Life – pg.51 – 2010

    DNA Caught Rock ‘N Rollin’: On Rare Occasions DNA Dances Itself Into a Different Shape – January 2011
    Excerpt: Because critical interactions between DNA and proteins are thought to be directed by both the sequence of bases and the flexing of the molecule, these excited states represent a whole new level of information contained in the genetic code,

  3. 3
    Mung says:

    The first codon that was cracked was that UUU=phenylalanine

    No intelligent designer would have used UUU to code for phenylalanine.


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