Over 5 years ago, I painted an interpretation of the genetic code using symbols for the amino acids that I created to help me memorize the amino acid residues. Today, I drew these symbols again with a few modifications and different versions.
F is for Phenylalanine, which is named after it’s structure of Alanine with a Phenyl group attached. Phenyl is derived from “pheno”, which means “I bear light” in Greek. Phenylalanine assists in the production of two important neurotransmitters, norepinephrine and dopamine, through an intermediate amino acid Tyrosine. Because norepinephrine has antidepressant properties, Phenylalanine is theorized to treat depression. An estimated 1 in 15,000 people have PKU, a rare genetic disorder resulting in a non or poorly functioning enzyme used to convert Phenylalanine to Tyrosine. This results in a reduction of norepinephrine and dopamine and a buildup of Phenylalanine. Individuals with PKU need to avoid Phenylalanine, which is most easily done by avoiding protein-rich foods such as meat, nuts, milk, cheese, and grains bread/pasta. Also, the artificial sweetener aspartame found in Equal and NutraSweet breaks down into Phenylalanine (and Aspartate).
Phenylalanine also stimulates the production of melanin, the pigment that gives color to skin, eyes, and hair.
Humans are not able to synthesize Phenylalanine and must get it from foods. High sources of Phenylalanine are found in the following foods, in priority order: powdered milk, hard cheese, soy, veal, lamb, chicken, pig, cod fish, oats, eggs, bread, rice, cow milk, and mushrooms. For reference, hard cheese has 10 times the Phenylalanine per gram than mushrooms.
Phenylalanine is encoded by the codons UUU and UUC. Notice that these codons are one mutation away from the codons UAU and UAC which encode the metabolically related amino acid Tyrosine.