“Groundbreaking” ‘Duon’ Paper Only Continues Research From Prior Studies


There is a lot of chatter on the internets about the press release from the University of Washington about a paper published in the journal Science this week. One claim within the press release is that findings in the present study uncover a ‘hidden’ code within human DNA that scientists had no prior knowledge of. As many have written, this assumption is completely false and grossly exagerated.

After reading the paper (paywall), I can say the study does add a wealth of new information to an already known phenomenon. I recommend reading the article if one is in the molecular biology or human genetics fields. However, the press release about this study should be retracted for the amount of misleading claims raised within it.

In fact, the authors write in the final paragraph,

Our results indicate that simultaneous encoding of amino acid and regulatory information within exons is a major functional feature of complex genomes. The information architecture of the received genetic code is optimized for superimposition of additional information (3435), and this intrinsic flexibility has been extensively exploited by natural selection. Although TF binding within exons may serve multiple functional roles, our analyses above is agnostic to these roles, which may be complex (36).

Pay close attention to the parenthetical numbers within the quote. These indicate the statement is referencing a prior publication. 34 is reference to a paper from 2007 in Genome Research entitled, “The genetic code is nearly optimal for allowing additional information within protein-coding sequences.” and can be found here. 35 is a paper from 2010 also in Genome Research; “Overlapping codes within protein-coding sequences.” found here. And 36 is from Nature Genetics earlier this year entitled, “DNase I–hypersensitive exons colocalize with promoters and distal regulatory elements” found here.

A question for UW Today,

If these authors uncovered an unknown, hidden code within DNA, how could they reference earlier studies that essentially elaborated upon these same ‘secrets’?

I’ll be waiting for an answer…

5 thoughts on ““Groundbreaking” ‘Duon’ Paper Only Continues Research From Prior Studies”

  1. I am often frustrated by media releases that make over-reaching statements about the research. While I understand the need to emphasize on the significance for grant funding or media attention purposes, this is really doing science a disservice and creating a lot of distrust.

    I think it is possible to come up with titles that indeed reflect the nature of the research, while showcasing the discovery. How about “scientists expanded knowledge on second code in DNA” or perhaps elaborate on what the additional info will help us understand (granted, I haven’t had a chance to read the actual paper, so perhaps I am overly optimistic).

    It’s unfortunate indeed. Would love to see your update…if an answer does come from UW…

    1. Spot on. The title of the actual paper is informative and realistic. The marketing tool for the university, however, is not. I hope something is indeed done to correct this on the part of UW or the authors. Thanks.

  2. Your apparent insight brings to light a typical problem with press releases–a lot of spin and obfuscation–
    It does not surprise me too much, but I would hope the “research group” is champing at the bit. Calling for “heads to roll” should be the normal response from the group’s lead.

    1. Indeed, John, spin gets in the way for the story. The saddest part is the quote from lead author that seems to promote the misinformation. Hopefully, something will be learned from this.

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