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Bioinformatics. 2000 Jan;16(1):34-40.

History of the enzyme nomenclature system.

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Department of Biochemistry, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.


Naming things is essential for people to understand one another, no matter what language or field of interest is involved. This is as true for enzymes, genes and chemicals as it is for birds, food, flowers, etc. Effective communication requires a lack of ambiguity, but, in practice, ambiguities abound even between people who use the same language in different parts of the world, or even within the same country. Whereas ambiguities in the words used for common objects or actions have been the basis for many, more-or-less memorable jokes, they can also cause a great deal of confusion. Such linguistic chaos is welcomed by many as being a part of a diverse heritage that should be preserved at all costs to prevent us from descending into Orwellian 'newspeak'. However, in the sciences, there are distinct advantages in others being able to understand what one is doing. Many groups have stressed the need for standardized, universally accepted systems of nomenclature in chemistry, genetics, enzymology, etc. However, it is the universal acceptance that usually causes the problem. It is rare to find people who will admit that they find nomenclature to be an interesting subject, but many who profess contempt for it will get very excited if it is suggested that their pet nomenclature should be changed in the interest of clarity or uniformity. This account will consider the development of the enzyme nomenclature system, its benefits, shortcomings and future prospects.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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