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DNA History

Learn about DNA history.

DNA History

A History of DNA

A history and timeline of genetics and the idea and structure of the DNA molecule from antiquity to the present-day.


As with most things, the history of DNA begins with the Greeks. Pythagoras the philosopher speculated around 500 BC (more than 2500 years ago) that human life begins with a blend of male and female fluids, or semens, each originating from a part of the body.


Later, Aristotle postulated that the semens are purified blood and that blood, therefore, is the element of heredity. Due to little advancements in science and though for over two thousand years, this concept persisted in the Western world and is demonstrated by such common phrases as blue blood, blood-will-tell, blood relative, bad blood, and royal blood.

Gregor Mendel

In the 1860s, a monk named Gregor Mendel discovered that the differences between organisms such as colors of pea flowers are distributed among the offsprings of a mating between two organisms in a regular way that can be understood only if the trait is determined as discrete entities, later called genes.

Thomas Hunt Morgan

Eary in the 20th century, it was discovered through the Drosophila Melanogaster work of Thomas Hunt Morgan et al. that genes are linked together in arrays on linear structures. These would bind dyes and were therefore called chromosomes (Greek. chromo meaning colour, and soma meaning body).

Archibald Garrod actually demonstrated in 1909 that humans which inherit mutant genes have particular defects in genes coding for enzymes (proteins that catalyze chemical reactions in a cell).

barbara mcclintok

Barbara McClinktock later demonstrated using corn that chromosomes are dynamic structures and that individual genes can become mobile within the set of chromosomes.

Importantly, Beadle, Tatum and Ephrussi demonstrated with Drosophila and Neurospora that the function of genes was to store information for the information to synthesize a protein.

Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin was a physical chemist working in Paris and was researching the structure of DNA at King's College. In 1951 she presented a lecture demonstrating that DNA was in the form of a helical shape.

Watson had attended this lecture, and learned of Franklin's important data. Watson took the data without Franklin's permission. Rosalind Franklin died in 1958.

Francis Crick's first sketch of the deoxyribonucleic acid double-helix.

Four years later in 1962, Watson, Crick, and Wilkins jointly received the Nobel Prize for the confirmation of the structure of DNA. The presentation of the Noble only to those researchers is a very controversial topic as Franklin had collaborated on the project but was acknowledged.

Although the hereditary importance of DNA was established previously, Watson and Crick proposed the "central dogma" of molecular biology in 1957. The central dogma describes the process whereby nucleic acid DNA codes for proteins.

DNA History References

Genetics. (2006). In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved October 4, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-48730

Molecular Cell Biology. 3rd Edition. Lodish.

See the DNA Molecule in 3-Dimensions

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