Thursday, April 25, 2013

DNA Structure Discovered 60 Years Ago

One of the world's most important scientific papers was published in the journal Nature on April 25, 1953, 60 years ago today.  The entire paper was just one page!  In the short communication, James Watson and Francis Crick not only detailed the definitive structure of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid)  but also proposed the unzipping mechanism by which the molecule could replicate itself.  They initially announced they had found "the secret of life" at the Eagle Pub in Cambridge, England.    (See the DNA diagram from the actual paper to the right)

These two brilliant men figured out the chemical structure of DNA without doing any experiments.  They started by carefully digested and then synthesizing the world's literature.  They attended conferences and sought data anywhere they could find it.  They were ridiculed for building stick models instead of conducting costly and time consuming lab investigations.  The solution to the beautiful double helix structure of DNA arose via the collaboration of biologist Watson and physicist Crick.  Neither one of them had an elite understanding of chemistry.  They even challenged and eventually proved wrong the triple helix structure proposed by famous chemist Linus Pauling.  

Sixty years later, their discovery and the subsequent research on recombinant DNA and genomic sequencing has transformed our lives.  Today, we take for granted our ability to "grow" human insulin in bioreactors and target specific cancers with molecular designer drugs.  It is appropriate to pause for just a moment today and thank the two dreamers who via their hard work and intuition discovered the structure of DNA.  Let's hope we can find and encourage many more dreamers like Watson and Crick.

References:  Watson and Crick,  Nature April 1953

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