DNA Nomenclature

Russell A. Maurer ram3 at po.CWRU.Edu
Fri Mar 11 16:48:52 EST 1994

In a previous article, ram3 at po.CWRU.Edu (Russell A. Maurer) says:

>...stuff deleted about confusing nomenclature (+/- strand,
>coding/noncoding, sense/antisense, etc. referring to DNA of course)...
>The postings on this thread only confirm that anyone crazy enough to use any
>of these terms in presenting their data guarantees to confuse half of the
>audience, under any scenario.  That is why, a number of years ago, JBC put
>out a policy edict forbidding the use of such ambiguous terminology in its
>pages (I once had the citation for the publication of this edict, but can't
>put my finger on it right now).  JBC, if memory serves, recommended the use
>of the terms "template strand" (that's the one complementary to mRNA) and
>"nontemplate strand" because only this terminology makes it crystal clear
>that the point of reference is the RNA polymerase, not the human brain.  I
>like this solution and think the other terms should be consigned to
>history.  (more stuff deleted)

Well folks, I sorta blew it in that post.  The citation is the 1989
newsletter of the joint commission on biochemical nomenclature (JBC
265:607-610 (1990)).  What it ACTUALLY says is this:


     Molecular biologists describing DNA sequences or referring to one of
the two strands of double-stranded DNA frequently use complementary pairs
of terms, such as coding/non-coding, sense/nonsense or
transcribing/nontranscribing.  Unfortunately none of these pairs is defined
in a universally accepted way: for example, one may contrast 'the coding
strand of DNA has the same sequence as mRNA' (page 723 in the 1987 edition
of Lewin's GENES) with 'coding strand: the strand of duplex DNA which is
transcribed into a complementary mRNA molecule (page 18 in Oliver and Ward,

     Of the three pairs of terms mentioned, NC-IUB and JCBN believe
coding/noncoding to be preferable.  Moreover, as the word 'coding' refers
to the relationship between nucleic acids and proteins, rather than the
mere transcription of DNA into RNA, it is logical to call the strand with
the mRNA sequence the coding strand, as in the first example.  When DNA
sequences are described by giving the sequence of only one strand, this is
usually the strand with the same sequence as the RNA (messenger, ribosomal,
transfer, etc.) and should therefore be called the coding strand."

In other words, the coding strand is the one with the codons, the noncoding
strand the one with the anticodons, according to these folks.  I'm not
convinced this solves the problem, but there you are.

Russ Maurer

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