Published: 4th August, 2011
Last edited: 4th August, 2011
Created: 2nd August, 2011
Ever dream of writing in genetic code? Now it is possible (Sort of).
How? Cells make up anything living. A lot of the functions in a cell, which are required for a cell to survive (and function normally in a multicellular organism) are carried out by complex molecules called proteins. There are 1000’s of proteins in a typical cell, and each protein has a specific, unique shape that defines what function they are going to perform in a cell. Proteins are made by cells, using 20 different building blocks called amino acids. These amino acids are joined in a long chain, and folded up to give each protein its unique structure. Cells make proteins using instructions written in stretches of DNA called genes. The instructions are written in DNA using four “letters” called nucleotides (A,T,G, and C). To make a protein, the gene first has to be rewritten into another molecule called RNA (again, using four “letters”, this time A, U (instead of T), G, and C). This happens in the cell nucleus, or if the cell is a prokaryote (lacks a nucleus), the nucleoid (where the nucleus could have been). The RNA molecule is translated into a protein in a cell structure called the ribosome. For that to happen, the letters on the RNA molecule are read off in bunches of three (called codons), and the order of the three letters will signal for a particular amino acid to be added to the growing chain of amino acids. The sequence of amino acids on the chain, as well as the unique properties of each amino acid determine how the protein will fold, and ultimately, what function the protein will carry out.
How does this font work? Well, scientists use a one – letter abbreviation for each amino acid when recording the structure of a protein. Since using a one-letter abbreviation for each amino acid requires 20 letters… Well, that covers just about the entire alphabet. To create the code you could type with, and in such a way that each letter is not obvious, each letter you see on the keyboard is reverse translated into a DNA sequence of three DNA “letters” (for curious scientists out there, the antisense strand of DNA is used). Some letters are not used for amino acids. Due to this problem, the letters closest to those not used are back-translated instead. The problem letters are listed with the substitute in parentheses - B (R), J (L), O (Q), U (V), X (K), and Z (S). Simply hit the normal keys on your keyboard, and watch your message being encrypted as you write. Although all punctuation marks are present, if you are going for a realistic this-is-how-you-see-it-in-a-large-database-that holds-DNA-sequences feel, you can leave them out. The period is one of three stop codons (a stop codon signals that the amino acid chain has been completed and can be released by the ribosome) – TAA. The space bar is a short dash. Why? When the order of the DNA letters on a gene is sequenced (read in order), sometimes there is uncertainty about a particular letter, and if you look on a database that stores DNA sequences, the problem letter will be signified by a short dash.
If you print out what you wrote, it will be nicely encrypted. To decrypt it, one can simply use a genetic code table from online or their biology textbook (remember to substitute each T with a U)