“CRACKING THE CODE”
DNA STRUCTURE & GENETIC ENGINEERING
Beginning 1953 AD
|This is a three-dimensional view of the double helix structure of the DNA molecule.
Credit: Image by brian0918™/Wikipedia.
During the 1940’s, a race was underway by several research teams to find the hypothetical “Code of Life”, that is the structure of the DNA molecule. Biologists James Watson and Francis Crick, as well as Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins, discovered that DNA was a double helix structure (similar to a spiral staircase) and could “unzip” its structure to create copies of itself. Watson and Crick’s paper on DNA structure, published in 1953, led to their being awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1962, which they received jointly with Maurice Wilkins who, like Rosalind Franklin, had done xray diffraction work that helped reveal the structure of DNA. (Rosalind Franklin had died four years earlier). Our understanding of genetics, reproduction, and evolution was revolutionized by this discovery, and most of the later advances in molecular biology have used the discovery of the structure and mechanics of DNA as the foundation of research.
The discovery of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) revolutionized the biological sciences. For the first time, scientists could examine the biological basis for variations in structure and metabolism of organisms at a molecular level, and understand how mutations could emerge through changes in the DNA pattern. Over the past 50 to 60 years a great deal of research has been undertaken to explore and understand how segments of a DNA molecule (called genes) provide a code for the development and structure of life forms.
Deciphering the “Code of Life” led to new ways of looking at relatedness and the evolutionary history of living organisms, to genetic engineering, and to sequencing the entire genome of humans and other species. It has become an important new tool in forensic science as well. Although we don’t yet know all of the intricacies of how the genes in our DNA work to produce the living organism, deciphering the structure of DNA has provided essential and powerful tools for genetic and biomolecular research underway today.
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
Your DNA is unique unless you are an identical twin. It is incredible to realize that what you are as an individual has been shaped by your genetic code, as well as your environment (for example, diet, exercise, injury, and disease).
This is a comprehensive PBS website about DNA, the history, structure, function, role in genetics and medicine, etc.
This is another comprehensiove website about DNA from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
On this National Institutes of Health website, there is a thorough and concise introduction about the basics of DNA.