Scientists at the University of Washington have discovered a second DNA code that instructs human cells how to control genes in the body, a find that could revolutionize how doctors detect, diagnose, and treat diseases.
Researchers previously believed that the human body contained only one code of DNA that dictated to cells how to make proteins. The second code, which was found within a hereditary material called deoxyribonucleic acid that exists in almost every cell, sat undetected for so long because it's written almost entirely underneath the first code, Agence France-Presse reported.
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"For over 40 years we have assumed that DNA changes affecting the genetic code
solely impact how proteins are made," John Stamatoyannopoulos, University of Washington associate professor of genome sciences and of medicine, said in a statement. "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."
The University of Washington team's findings were published in the Dec. 13 issue of the journal Science. The research is part of the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements Project, or ENCODE, a multiyear effort that is funded through the National Human Genome Research Institute.
"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," Stamatoyannopoulos said.
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