For more than a century, scientists at Rockefeller University have enhanced our understanding of the molecular basis of life — specifically the relationship between the structure and function of nucleic acids and proteins. They showed that DNA transfers genetic information and that the sugars ribose and deoxyribose are the key building blocks of the nucleic acids RNA and DNA.
In 1961, in the National Institutes of Health Headquarters (Bethesda, MD), Marshall Nirenberg and Heinrich Matthaei discovered the key to breaking the genetic code when they conducted an experiment using a synthetic RNA chain of multiple units of uracil to instruct a chain of amino acids to add phenylalanine. The uracil (poly-U) served as a messenger directing protein synthesis. This experiment demonstrated that messenger RNA transcribes genetic information from DNA, regulating the assembly of amino acids into complex proteins.