In Search of the Human Genetic Code

The public has been slow to embrace the word “genome” because of a continuing confusion with the term “genetic code.”

Ricki Lewis
Oct 24, 2004

Scientific terminology is intentionally precise: One would not confuse a peptide with a peptidase, or DNA with RNA.

Unfortunately, the public has been slow to embrace the word "genome" because of a continuing confusion with the term "genetic code" that is perpetuated by editors, writers, and even a few prominent scientists.

The dictionary defines "code" as "a system of signals used to represent letters or numbers in transmitting messages." Substitute "amino acids" for "letters or numbers" and you have an approximation of "genetic code." Francis Crick led the team that deciphered the code in 1961,1 and soon after, Monroe Strickberger's classic genetics text defined it well: "A table of all the code words or codons that specify amino acids." The code's elegance lies in its universality. The same codons specify the same amino acids, in a human or a hyacinth.

Yet when the first draft of the human genome...

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