Protein Translation
Protein Translation in Go
// Package protein has functionality to translate RNA sequences into proteins.
package protein

import "errors"

var (
	// ErrInvalidBase indicates the codon was invalid.
	ErrInvalidBase = errors.New("invalid codon")
	// ErrStop indicates the translation was stopped.
	ErrStop = errors.New("stop")

	noProteins = []string{}
	lookup = map[string]string{
		"AUG": "Methionine",
		"UUU": "Phenylalanine", "UUC": "Phenylalanine",
		"UUA": "Leucine", "UUG": "Leucine",
		"UCU": "Serine", "UCC": "Serine", "UCA": "Serine", "UCG": "Serine",
		"UAU": "Tyrosine", "UAC": "Tyrosine",
		"UGU": "Cysteine", "UGC": "Cysteine",
		"UGG": "Tryptophan",
		"UAA": "STOP", "UAG": "STOP", "UGA": "STOP",

const codonLength = 3

// FromRNA maps RNA codons to their matching proteins and returns either the list of proteins
// or returns an error for an invalid codon.
func FromRNA(rna string) (proteins []string, err error) {
	for i := 0; i < len(rna); i += codonLength {
		codon, err := FromCodon(rna[i : i+codonLength])
		if err == ErrStop {
		if err == ErrInvalidBase {
			return noProteins, err
		proteins = append(proteins, codon)
	return proteins, err

// FromCodon either translates a codon to a protein or returns an error for a stop codon or invalid codon.
func FromCodon(codon string) (protein string, err error) {
	protein = lookup[codon]
	if protein == "" {
		err = ErrInvalidBase
	} else if protein == "STOP" {
		protein = ""
		err = ErrStop
	return protein, err

This approach uses a map object for looking up valid codons. First, a couple of errors are defined. Next, an empty string slice is defined. Then the map is defined to relate each valid codon to its protein.

The FromRNA() function is defined with named return values which are initialized with their zero values. The for loop in FromRNA() starts at 0 and increments by the codon length of 3 until reaching the len() of the RNA strand. In each iteration of the loop, a slice of the RNA strand is passed to the FromCodon() function, which returns the protein and an error. If the error is for a STOP codon, then the loop breaks out of the loop. If the error is for an invalid codon, then the function immediately returns an empty string slice and the error. If the error is nil, then the protein is appended to the output slice of proteins.

When the loop successfully finishes, the function returns the slice of proteins and a nil error.


The err returned from the call to FromCodon() shadows the err named return value defined for from RNA(). If an err is returned for a STOP codon, it falls out of scope when breaking from the loop, and the err returned at the end of the function is the err named return value with the zero (nil) value. More info on shadowed variables can be found here. Because shadowing variables can be confusing, it may be preferred to use return proteins, nil for the final return statement.

The FromCodon() function is also defined with named return values which are initialized with their zero values. If the look-up of the codon results in an empty string, the error is set for an invalid codon. If the codon look-up is "STOP", then the protein is set to an empty string and the error is set for a stopped codon. The function then returns whatever the values are for the protein and the error.

17th Apr 2024 · Found it useful?