The genetic code specifies all the proteins that a cell makes. The second code, superimposed on the first, sets the placement of the nucleosomes, miniature protein spools around which the DNA is looped. The spools both protect and control access to the DNA itself.
The discovery, if confirmed, could open new insights into the higher order control of the genes, like the critical but still mysterious process by which each type of human cell is allowed to activate the genes it needs but cannot access the genes used by other types of cell.
Knowing the pattern, they were able to predict the placement of about 50 percent of the nucleosomes in other organisms.
The pattern is a combination of sequences that makes it easier for the DNA to bend itself and wrap tightly around a nucleosome. But the pattern requires only some of the sequences to be present in each nucleosome binding site, so it is not obvious. The looseness of its requirements is presumably the reason it does not conflict with the genetic code, which also has a little bit of redundancy or wiggle room built into it.
In the genetic code, sets of three DNA units specify various kinds of amino acid, the units of proteins. A curious feature of the code is that it is redundant, meaning that a given amino acid can be defined by any of several different triplets. Biologists have long speculated that the redundancy may have been designed so as to coexist with some other kind of code, and this, Dr. Segal said, could be the nucleosome code.