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Nucleosome Code

August 5, 2006

Scientists claim to have discovered an epigenetic code. This could be a fundamental discovery in the field. This weeks New York Times Science Section has a very accessible explanation.

Researchers believe they have found a second code in DNA in addition to the genetic code.

The genetic code specifies all the proteins that a cell makes. The second code, superimposed on the first, sets the placement of the nucleosomes, miniature protein spools around which the DNA is looped. The spools both protect and control access to the DNA itself.Jerry Workman of the Stowers Institute in Kansas City said the detection of the nucleosome code was “a profound insight if true,” because it would explain many aspects of how the DNA is controlled.

In the genetic code, sets of three DNA units specify various kinds of amino acid, the units of proteins. A curious feature of the code is that it is redundant, meaning that a given amino acid can be defined by any of several different triplets. Biologists have long speculated that the redundancy may have been designed so as to coexist with some other kind of code, and this, Dr. Segal said, could be the nucleosome code.

This discovery is very early in the scientific process and needs to be verified. If it pans out, it could provide the basis for more powerful epigenetic epidimiology. I’ll keep tabs on this story as the implications become more clear.

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