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I'm trying to find out who created or first used the codon wheel chart as far as we can know.

I don't mean the tabular format.

Codon Wheel

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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps better asked on the History of Science & Math StackExchange. $\endgroup$
    – mgkrebbs
    Jan 20, 2019 at 22:27

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I am Rosemarie Swanson, still alive, and yes, the Gray code representation of the codon wheel was my idea. I was trying to develop a linear similarity scale for amino acids. On Thanksgiving of 1977, I suddenly realized that instead of a linear scale, a circle gave a better representation of the similarity of amino acids. Later, I thought to look at codons. When I realized that a 2-bit gray code representation of codons approximately matched my amino acid similarity circle, I was excited. I worked very hard on writing up the idea, but had a hard time getting it published, until the editor of Bulletin of Mathematical Biology said he would like for me to submit the manuscript in 1983.

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    $\begingroup$ Amazing. What made you look into circular representation? $\endgroup$ Jun 29, 2022 at 20:18
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It is very difficult to answer this one for certain but I think the codon wheel representation is sometimes attributed to Rosemarie Swanson who represented the amino acid code using Gray code (or reflected binary code).

Swanson's work actually went quite a bit deeper than the simplified codon wheels you find in ordinary textbooks (ordering by size of the amino acid and position within the chain as well). You can have a look for yourself here in her 1984 article A unifying concept for the amino acid code in Bulletin of Mathematical Biology.

DISCLAIMER: I do not claim that I know the answer to this question for certain nor can I. However, I cannot find official publications earlier than Swanson's 1984 paper showing a circular representation of the amino acid code.

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    $\begingroup$ Even if she was not the originator, your answer takes this back far enough to deserve upvoting. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Jan 21, 2019 at 22:06
  • $\begingroup$ Nice but as you say it still does not mean it is her idea. I wonder if she is still alive and can be asked $\endgroup$ Jan 22, 2019 at 10:36
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This answer *pre-dates* the others' focus on Rosemarie Swanson


The German Wikipedia article for the "code-sun" credits this circular diagram to Carsten Bresch and Rudolf Hausmann1.

1. Bresch, C. and R. Hausmann. 1972. Klassische Und Molekulare Genetik. Springer-Verlag, Berlin / Heidelberg / New York 1972, ISBN 3-540-05802-8.

Below is a screenshot of page 243 from a supposed 1970 edition2 of the text that introduces the "code sun":

enter image description here

Interestingly, this source is 14 years earlier than Swanson's paper3 (and even 7 years earlier than she claims to have come up with her version (which, for those who have not clicked on the link to her 1984 paper in Johnny's answer, looks quite different)).

What remains unclear to me (due to the lack of availability of additional pages of an online version of this text and my own lack of access to other versions):

  • if this idea in Bresch and Hausmann is original or from an alternate earlier source.
  • whether this wheel (or "sun") was depicted in earlier versions of this text (e.g., first version was in 1964)
  • how this version relates to Swanson's ideas years later...

1. Bresch, C. and R. Hausmann. 1972. Klassische Und Molekulare Genetik. Springer-Verlag, Berlin / Heidelberg / New York 1972, ISBN 3-540-05802-8.

2. Bresch, C. and R. Hausmann. 1970. Klassische Und Molekulare Genetik. Springer-Verlag, Berlin / Heidelberg GmbH 1970, ISBN 978-3-662-23449-5.

3. Swanson, R., 1984. A unifying concept for the amino acid code. Bulletin of Mathematical Biology, 46(2), pp.187-203.

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  • $\begingroup$ Interesting. I also asked ChatGPT and it claims that the codon wheel was developed by a team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the 1970s. I couldn't find a source though. $\endgroup$ Jan 4, 2023 at 21:40
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    $\begingroup$ @JonathanSisam do yourself a favor: don't ask ChatGPT questions. It doesn't actually know the answers $\endgroup$ Jan 4, 2023 at 22:04
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    $\begingroup$ @rosemarie-swanson, can you comment on the similarities/differences/history comparing your representation and that of Bresch & Hausmann? Thanks :) $\endgroup$ Feb 27, 2023 at 21:37

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