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DNA Language Discovered to Have Second Meaning, What Duons May Mean for Disease Diagnosis and Treatment


Scientists have discovered a second way to read and interpret DNA code, which could have implications on how doctors look at certain issues with disease and health.

According to a news release, the research is part of the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements Project, or ENCODE. The project's objective is to determine how and where directions for biological functions are stored in the human genome.

Scientists at the University of Washington discovered that genomes use genetic code not only to write information about proteins, but to write in two separate languages. The second language was discovered to lie beneath the first and is believed to instruct the cell on how genes are controlled.

"For over 40 years we have assumed that DNA changes affecting the genetic code solely impact how proteins are made," said study lead researcher Dr. John Stamatoyannopoulos. "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."

Genetic code's alphabet is made up of 64 letters called codons, which the research team named "duons" for their second meaning. The two meanings seem to work together, with one controlling proteins and the other stabilizing certain controls to benefit the proteins.

"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.

Duons should help scientists and physicians interpret a patient's genome allowing for more accurate and effective disease diagnoses and treatment.

The researchers published their work in the journal Science. The National Human Genome Research Institute funded the UW team's multiyear study.

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