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Exploring 50 Years of the Genetic Code: From Initial Discovery to Therapeutic Applications

The New York Academy of Sciences will host a symposium honoring Marshall Nirenberg, who first cracked the genetic code, focusing on current genetic code-related research advances that are changing science and medicine.

Published July 29, 2014

NEW YORK, July 29, 2014 - On July 31, the New York Academy of Sciences will hold the symposium Hot Topics in Life Sciences discussion group, the symposium will showcase current advances in scientific and medical research that have resulted from Nirenberg's discovery.

"Watson and Crick may have discovered the structure of DNA, but they didn't crack its code. That we can read a DNA sequence and deduce what protein sequence it represents, that we can design a mutation in which one amino acid in a protein is precisely replaced by another, that we can interpret disease-causing changes in the genome in terms of changes in the structures of proteins, that we can design totally new proteins from scratch and have bacteria make them for us - all of these things, and more, are only possible because Marshall Nirenberg and his associates taught us how to understand the language of nucleotide triplets," says symposium organizer and speaker Gregory A. Petsko, DPhil, Arthur J. Mahon Professor of Neurology and Neuroscience, Weill Cornell Medical College.

Symposium speakers, including Nobel Laureate Venki Ramakrishnan, PhD, of the University of Cambridge, will explore the current state of the genetic code, specifically focusing on the many tools and principles within the field of chemistry that have been designed to probe the molecules and processes of living cells and the flow of genetic information from DNA to RNA to protein. Speakers will also address the broader impacts of the genetic code in therapeutic areas such as cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and age-related cognitive decline. A panel of experts will focus on legal, ethical, and social considerations that surround applications of the genetic code.

During the event, Professor Myrna Weissman, PhD, widow of Marshall Nirenberg, will make a special presentation to the New York Academy of Sciences' President and CEO, Ellis Rubinstein, of two framed prints of scientific and historical significance:

  • Marshall Nirenberg's First Summary of the Genetic Code, January 18, 1965, and
  • Marshall Nirenberg's Summary at the Vatican of the Meaning of the Genetic Code and Evolution, November 1, 2007.


For a full conference agenda, visit

For press inquiries, including press passes to the conference, please contact Diana Friedman (; 212-298-8645).


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The New York Academy of Sciences is an independent, not-for-profit organization that since 1817 has been committed to advancing science, technology, and society worldwide. With more than 22,000 members in 100 countries around the world, the Academy is creating a global community of science for the benefit of humanity. The Academy's core mission is to advance scientific knowledge, positively impact the major global challenges of society with science-based solutions, and increase the number of scientifically informed individuals in society at large. Please visit us online at