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Maybe this is answered already before, but I cannot find it:

Most authors say/write "a gene codes for a protein", some use "a gene codes a protein". The latter seems to me the grammatically correct use of the verb "code".

What's the reason for saying "code for"? Is it because of RNA processing (e.g. splicing)? What about the coding of single amino acid: "AAA codes Lysin" or "AAA codes for Lysin"? I would also like to know some history of the use of these (and may be other) terminologies.

Tia Udo

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closed as off-topic by canadianer, David, anongoodnurse, James, kmm Nov 9 '17 at 13:33

  • This question does not appear to be about biology within the scope defined in the help center.
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ In the second usage ("a gene codes a protein"), it's likely the authors meant to write, "a gene encodes a protein". That would then be grammatically correct and correct phrasing. $\endgroup$ – Devon Ryan Oct 29 '17 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not about biology. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Oct 29 '17 at 20:09
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it belongs on SE English Language & Usage (especially the history part), but the poster would need to do some research first. $\endgroup$ – David Oct 30 '17 at 0:35
  • $\begingroup$ @DevonRyan "encode" is just the term I've found on Jennifer Doudna's talk.This question may be closed... $\endgroup$ – Udo Bellack Oct 31 '17 at 18:57
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This is an English usage question more than one of biology. The verb code has two main meanings(1):

  • (transitive) to put into the symbols of a code
  • (intransitive) to be a code symbol

The first, which being transitive takes an object, is used for the act (as by a person) of translating a plain message into a corresponding encoded form. This is not the meaning used in "AAG codes for lysine".

The second form does not take an object. It is not being done to something, but rather is just a state of being. This form is almost always followed by a prepositional phrase "for noun", as in "INS codes for insulin".

Hence it is not correct English to say things like "INS codes insulin", as the use of "insulin" as an object implies the first meaning, as if one were saying "INS takes an insulin molecule and puts it into an encoded form" (whatever that would mean).

The reader would likely try to interpret "INS codes insulin" with the intended meaning, but the incorrect usage makes it seem equivalent to something like "INS is a DNA sequence insulin." Leaving out the preposition for may be shorter, but it gives a bumpier ride.

(1): Merriam-Webster. For more variants see Wiktionary, esp. encode.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the quick answer! I agree with the intransitive form "be a code for", e.g. "Gene G is a code for Protein P". I've put that question on (english.stackexchange.com/questions/416263/…) to get examples of non-genetics usage of "code for". btw: I'm just watching a video of Jennifer Doudna, which is an expert in the field of genetics, and she uses "Gene G encodes Protein P" which look very fine to mee (youtube.com/watch?v=SuAxDVBt7kQ?t=254) $\endgroup$ – Udo Bellack Oct 29 '17 at 20:27
  • $\begingroup$ I couldn't edit the last comment since it was older than 5 mins: ... I've read Merriam-Webster's and Wiktionary's articles and agree with the intransitive form "be a code for", e.g. "Gene G is a code for Protein P". I've put that question on (english.stackexchange.com/questions/416263/…) to get examples of non-genetics usages of "code for". btw: I'm just watching a video of Jennifer Doudna, which is an expert in the field of genetics, and she uses "Gene G encodes Protein P" which looks very fine to me (youtube.com/watch?v=SuAxDVBt7kQ?t=254) $\endgroup$ – Udo Bellack Oct 29 '17 at 20:35

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