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German Research Foundation approves new priority program in the life sciences
Date:4/15/2014

In recent years, it has become clear that the genetic code is far more complex than previously assumed. In addition to the well-known building blocks adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine, numerous chemical variations play an important role. Scientists now assume that the newly discovered nucleic acid modifications may form a second layer of information that extends and complements the genetic code. "The new discoveries are rather like umlauts that extend the standard alphabet," explained Professor Mark Helm of the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Biochemistry - Therapeutic Life Sciences at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). Helm is the coordinator of the priority program "Chemical Biology of Native Nucleic Acid Modifications", which the German Research Foundation (DFG) has now agreed to fund.

This nationwide priority program will start in 2015 and, according to plans, will continue to receive DFG support for six years. "We are lucky enough in Germany to have some of the leading international researchers in all the core areas in this field and we thus intend to explore this subject with the help of a country-wide network," said Helm. Decoding the information in the modified DNA and RNA bases and nucleosides is a hot topic in chemical biology right now.

Before 2009, scientists were convinced that only the four Watson-Crick bases plus a fifth base called 5-methylcytosine code for the genetic information that is key to life. Then three additional DNA modifications were uncovered in quick succession, which are postulated to act as switches that regulate gene functions. The switch can be used to activate or deactivate a gene. "We are looking at a completely new coding mechanism that had previously escaped our attention," Helm pointed out. On the other hand, scientists have long known that RNA, which is responsible for translating the genetic code into proteins, contains more than 150 different modified nucleosides. The purpose of
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Contact: Dr. Mark Helm
mhelm@uni-mainz.de
49-613-139-25731
Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet Mainz
Source:Eurekalert

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