genetic code

the biochemical instructions that translate the genetic information present as a linear sequence of nucleotide triplets in messenger RNA into the correct linear sequence of amino acids for the synthesis of a particular peptide chain or protein. Cf. codon, translation (def. 9).
[1960-65]

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Sequence of nucleotides in DNA and RNA that determines the amino acid sequence of proteins.

A messenger RNA molecule synthesized from the DNA directs the synthesis of the protein. Three adjacent nucleotides constitute a unit known as a codon; each codon codes for a single amino acid. There are 64 possible codons, 61 of which specify the 20 amino acids that make up proteins. Because most of the 20 amino acids are coded for by more than one codon, the code is called degenerate. Once thought to be identical in all forms of life, the genetic code has been found to vary slightly in certain organisms and in the mitochondria of some eukaryotes.

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 the sequence of nucleotides (nucleotide) in deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA) (RNA) that determines the amino acid sequence of proteins. Though the linear sequence of nucleotides in DNA contains the information for protein sequences, proteins are not made directly from DNA. Instead, a messenger RNA (mRNA) molecule is synthesized from the DNA and directs the formation of the protein. RNA is composed of four nucleotides: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and uracil (U). Three adjacent nucleotides constitute a unit known as the codon, which codes for an amino acid. For example, the sequence AUG is a codon that specifies the amino acid methionine. There are 64 possible codons, three of which do not code for amino acids but indicate the end of a protein. The remaining 61 codons specify the 20 amino acids that make up proteins. The AUG codon, in addition to coding for methionine, is found at the beginning of every mRNA and indicates the start of a protein. Because most of the 20 amino acids are coded for by more than one codon, the code is called degenerate.

      The genetic code, once thought to be identical in all forms of life, has been found to diverge slightly in certain organisms and in the mitochondria of some eukaryotes. Nevertheless, these differences are rare, and the genetic code is identical in almost all species, with the same codons specifying the same amino acids. The deciphering of the genetic code was accomplished by the American biochemists Marshall W. Nirenberg (Nirenberg, Marshall Warren), Robert W. Holley (Holley, Robert William), and Har Gobind Khorana (Khorana, Har Gobind) in the early 1960s.

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Universalium. 2010.

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