Researcher Natalia Ivanova was parsing this data when she noticed something strange: several bacteria had really short genes, around 200 nucleotides long, a far cry from the more typical 800-900 nucleotide length she was expecting. Short genes mean short proteins, and in this case, seemingly nonfunctional ones. The only way to make it coherent was if “stop” codons didn’t actually mean “stop”.

Ivanova experimented computationally with various codon reassignments, and ultimately found that things looked a lot more normal if “opal” was translated as a glycine amino acid. In other words, “the same word means different things in different organisms,” says Eddy Rubin, JGI’s Director. The microbial world is multilingual.

Wired, Is DNA multilingual? 

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