The Discovery of the Double Helix
Today, the 1953 discovery of the double helix, “the twisted-ladder structure” of DNA, by James Watson and Francis Crick, constitutes one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of science. The discovery has given rise to the molecular biology of today and generated new insights into genetic coding upon which today’s multi-billion dollar biotechnology industry is founded. It laid the groundwork for other scientific achievements, including modern forensics and the mapping of the human genome. All of this is thanks to Watson and Crick, and their groundbreaking discovery of “the master molecule of life (Dahm, 2011, p. 327).
Genetics Before the Discovery
Before Watson and Crick’s breakthrough, in the early 1950’s, scientists used the term “gene” to describe the littlest component of genetic information, but they were ignorant of the gene’s structural and chemical appearance or how the genes could be copied with so few mistakes from one generation to the next.
In 1944, Oswald Avery proved that deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) was the carrier of hereditary instruction in pneumococcal bacteria. Despite Avery’s findings, most scientists maintained that DNA had a construction too unvarying and simple to store the genetic information that was needed for making complex organisms. These scientists believed that genes must consist of proteins, which have a far more diverse and intricate structure.
Watson and Crick Engage in Genetic Research
Watson and Crick recognized that acquiring a comprehensive understanding of the three-dimensional configuration of the gene was fundamental for further comprehension of molecular biology. Neither genetics nor reproduction could be fully understood without such informati...
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The two had proven that in DNA, structure is closely related to function: the double-stranded molecule’s structure allowed it to produce exact copies of itself and carry genetic instructions. Crick suggested that the sequence of the bases in DNA forms a code by which genetic information can be stored and transmitted and concluded that DNA is, indeed, the carrier of hereditary instruction (“The Francis Crick Papers,” 2013).
Their model was so compelling that scientists instantly accepted and began to develop their research. Watson and Crick became two of the most prominent scientists of all time, even receiving a Nobel Prize, shared with Maurice Wilkins, for their enlightening findings. Thanks to their discovery, understanding of genetics has continued to broaden, generating new insights and achievements in the scientific community (Aaseng, 1984, p. 85).
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