AUG

Aug is short for August, and AUG in an mRNA is a “Start” Codon, where translation first begins, or where a DNA message commonly begins to manifest as an amino acid sequence.

On the one side, the 8th month of a Gregorian year was named after Gaius Octavius Thurinus (63 BCE to 14 CE), adoptive son of Julius Caesar and the first emperor of the Roman Empire (27 BCE to 480 CE, West, and 1453 CE, East). Octavius was remembered as “Augustus”, in Latin that means sacred, venerable, or majestic (?).

His calendar system, one that pitted number prefixes (Sept-, Oct-, etc…) against actual numbers, persisted to the day of the author, and is still widely used after some patches.

On the other, A, U, and G, in molecular biology, stand for three nitrogenous bases (nucleobases), Adenine, Uracil, and Guanine. The name “Adenine” was created in 1885, rooted in “pancreas” — ἀδήν “aden”, in Greek — the organ sample from which the molecule was first identified. “Uracil” was also coined in 1885, in an attempt to synthesize derivatives of uric acid. The molecule was then found in living things (yeast cells) in 1900. Guanine was isolated in the early 1840s, as a crystal from bird excrement, which was known in Spanish as guano.

For quite some time after their discovery, some of these molecules were merely regarded as funny nitrogenous ring derivatives, and some once a vitamin (which they are not qualified to be, as the body readily synthesizes them all the time), and their logical connection wouldn’t be clearly established until the early 20th century, where the central dogma proposed a main pathway of DNA expression. In this picture, A,U, and G, molecules, when properly attached to one molecule of ribose (which makes the duos Adenosine, Uridine, and Guanosine, respectively), form codons and anticodons in RNA, which make protein expressions possible.

That I am beginning my research career in a month that sounds like “Start” is about the most trivial thing I’ve ever set to discuss around here, but it’s a coincidence 2000 years in the making, which, like most things in life, gives me that sense of weird depth and wonderful complexity. Also I suppose it is a good (minor) detail to help pinpoint myself in the stream of history.

Notes and References

The time points of the Roman Empire were taken from Encyclopedia Britannica, while the meaning of Augustus was provided by the trusty Google Latin -> English Translate.

The stories of A, U, and G Molecules are based on the following book,

Paul O. P. Ts’o. Basic Principles in Nucleic Acid Chemistry, vol. 1. (1974). pp. 7

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