DNA Day experts answer your questions about the history of DNA

18 April 2013

Above: Image © Wikimedia Commons

What experiments were made to discover DNA?

Some of the most important experiments to unravel the double helix DNA Structure were done by Rosalind Franklin's lab, where she crystallized DNA and bombarded the crystals with X-rays to see how they defracted. Watson and Crick used these defraction images as part of solving the double helix. But from a purely "existence of DNA" perspective, Friedrich Miescher isolated DNA first from white blood cells.

- Answer provided by Dr. Paul Gordon

We are going to talk about Watson, Crick, Wilkins, and of course, Rosalind Franklin and the race to determine the DNA Structure. Would like to have your comments on Rosalind Franklin's role.

The standard version of Rosalind franklin's role in the discovery of the DNA Structure is that James Watson 'stole' her x-ray diffraction image (photo 51) and used it to help himself and Francis Crick come up with the double helix. This isn't right: Franklin had had the photo for months, but didn't realize that it screamed 'double helix' and didn't put much emphasis on it ... Also, Watson didnd't steal it; Maurice Wilkins, who shared the lab with Franklin, showed it to Watson, who immediately recognized its importance. What soured the whole thing was Watson's book, The Double Helix, in which he didn't properly acknowledge Franklin's role.

- Answer provided by Jay Ingram

How was the first piece of DNA in history created?

The prevailing theory is that RNA came first, because it's a bit simpler, and RNA can catalyse its own processing. This means that DNA and proteins were not necessary to replicate the first RNAs. The assumption is that at some point transcription ribozymes (RNA catalysts) made the first DNA, and a co-dependency was formed.

- Answer provided by Dr. Paul Gordon


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