Skip Navigation

Marshall Nirenberg cracks the genetic code for protein synthesis

protein synthesis

Marshall Nirenberg cracks the genetic code for protein synthesis

In the early 1960s, Marshall Nirenberg and National Institutes of Health colleagues focused on how DNA directs protein synthesis and the role of RNA in these processes. Their 1961 experiment, using a synthetic messenger RNA (mRNA) strand that contained only uracils (U), yielded a protein that contained only phenylalanines. Identifying UUU (three uracil bases in a row) as the RNA code for phenylalanine was their first breakthrough. Within a few years, Nirenberg’s team had cracked the 60 mRNA codons for all 20 amino acids. In 1968, Nirenberg shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his contributions to breaking the genetic code and understanding protein synthesis.
1961