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NSU Research Spotlight: NSU Biophysicist Studies the “Autocorrect” Feature in your DNA

AutoCorrect DNA LRN Photo

Louis Nemzer, Ph.D.

New research at NSU has revealed the information content associated with each letter of DNA. This work may improve our understanding of how the genetic code can resist the effects of mutations that may cause cancer or inherited diseases. The same genetic code is used by almost all living organisms to translate three-letter “words,” or codons, of DNA into amino acids, which are strung together to form proteins.

Assistant Professor Louis Nemzer, Ph.D., a biophysicist at the Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography, used methods from the field of information theory to calculate the “Shannon entropy” of each letter of DNA, depending on the type of base (A, T, G, or C) and its position in the codon. Although many people have never heard of Claude Shannon, his pioneering work at Bell Labs on measuring the maximum amount of information contained in messages is still crucial today for digital communication technologies, including text messaging, WiFi, and mobile data transmission. So why did Shannon choose to call his measure of information “entropy,” a word more associated with the physics of an ideal gas?

“There are very close connections between thermodynamics and information theory” said Dr. Nemzer, “entropy in physics really just measures how much information about a system you are missing.”

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