DNA is the biological instruction manual for life, but anyone who’s assembled a flatpack wardrobe knows that getting from instructions to final product isn’t straightforward. Sequences of DNA are transcribed into an intermediate copy, called messenger RNA. This message is passed onto the machinery that builds proteins, the building blocks of our bodies. But details of how this message is translated weren’t known until research by Robert W. Holley – born on this day in 1922 – described the structure of another player in the process: transfer RNA. By repeatedly breaking it apart and reassembling, he pieced together its fine detail, helping to reveal how it steers the appropriate protein parts towards the assembly line. This discovery paved the way for future work outlining the sequence of genes and earned him a share of the 1968 Nobel Prize, before he went on to apply his chemistry excellence to further mysteries of life.
Written by Anthony Lewis
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