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Crick & Brenner Propose The Genetic Code

Crick Genetic Code title page

Preprint mimeographed version of "The General Nature of the Genetic Code for Proteins" inscribed by Francis Crick.

At Cambridge in 1961 Francis Crick, Sydney Brenner and colleagues proposed that DNA code is written in “words” called codons formed of three DNA bases. DNA sequence is built from four different bases, so a total of 64 (4 x 4 x 4) possible codons can be produced. They also proposed that a particular set of RNA molecules subsequently called transfer RNAs (tRNAs) act to “decode” the DNA.

“There was an unfortunate thing at the Cold Spring Harbor Symposium that year. I said, ‘We call this messenger RNA’ Because Mercury was the messenger of the gods, you know. And Erwin Chargaff very quickly stood up in the audience and said he wished to point out that Mercury may have been the messenger of the gods, but he was also the god of thieves. Which said a lot for Chargaff at the time! But I don’t think that we stole anything from anybody— except from nature. I think it’s right to steal from nature, however” (Brenner, My Life, 85).

Francis Crick, L. Barnett, Sydney Brenner and R. J. Watts-Tobin, “General Nature of the Genetic code for Proteins,” Nature 192 (1961): 1227-32.

J. Norman (ed) Morton's Medical Bibliography 5th ed (1991) no. 256.8.

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