Is There a DNA Puzzle in Alberts’ Molecular Biology of the Cell?

Last November, I bought Molecular Biology of the Cell by Alberts (5th edition). I’m a few chapters in, and so far it’s an excellent textbook, I recommend it.

But there’s something that has been intriguing me for months: Once every few pages, seemingly at random, there are groups of 4 red letters inside pointy brackets. At first, I thought it was probably formatting meta-data, some kind of printing accident. But the second time the red letter popped up in a weird place, I noticed that the letters were all DNA letters (T,A,G,C).

Could this be a puzzle? Is this some kind of clever biological joke by the authors?

If it is, what do these code for? Some well-known protein?

It’s a mystery so far.

Update: Unless this is a well-known joke among biologists (it’s a common textbook, after all) and someone tells me about it in the comments or via email, I’ll probably compile a sequence of nucleotide letters long enough for it to be unique and then Google it. I had my “duh” moment and realized there’s no need to go through the whole 1000-page book and compile all of red letters…

7 Responses to “Is There a DNA Puzzle in Alberts’ Molecular Biology of the Cell?”

  1. Jordan Says:

    Insufficient data. If you have all of them or a sufficient number of them, in the proper order, it might be possible to come up with something.

  2. Michael Graham Richard Says:


    You’re right, of course.

    Maybe someday I’ll go through the 1000-pages and compile the whole thing (if my curiosity doesn’t fade). But I was kind of hoping that by posting about it, someone who already knows about this would be able to help. It’s a fairly common textbook, so maybe the puzzle/joke is well-known among biologists..?

    Or maybe another strategy would be to compile a sequence of nucleotides that is long enough to be unique, and then just Google it and see what comes up. That’s probably the smart way to do it.

  3. Richard Farias Says:

    You’d be better off compiling the nucleotides and then going to NCBI and running a BLASTn search. Google isn’t going to do you any good.

  4. Russell Whitaker Says:

    I’m on page 376, and just ran across one of these 4-letter codes after many previous encounters of the same scheme. This phenomenon has been bugging me too. I took a quick break to Google for “mysterious 4-letter codes in 5th edition of molecular biology of the cell” and found this page – top result, as a matter of fact – but no others which might help. I’m using this excellent text for a class at Columbia; maybe one of my professors gets the joke… I will need to ask…

  5. Russell Whitaker Says:

    Aha! See prefatory page xxxi, “A Note to the Reader,” section “Media Codes”:

    “Media codes are integrated throughout the text to indicate when relevant videos and animations are available on the DVD-ROM. The four-letter codes are enclosed in brackets and highlighted in color, like this . The interface for the Cell Biology Interactive media player on the DVD-ROM contains a window where you enter the 4-letter code. When the code is typed into the interface, the corresponding media item will load into the media player.”

  6. Michael Graham Richard Says:

    Thanks, Russell. I’m a bit sad it’s something so mundane, but I’m glad to know what those codes are. Cheers!

  7. #gennick[SPSРOС Says:

    file_links\key.txt,5] file_links\url.txt,2]

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