The double helix: The discovery of what makes us ‘US’

It is not too long since the discovery of what makes us ‘Us’ was finally put forth. This discovery is considered as one of the momentous discoveries of the 20th century in the field of biological science. In the year 1953, an American biologist James Watson and English Physicist Francis Crick submitted their paper on the “Molecular structure of nucleic acids” disclosing the double helix structure of DNA. This twisted-ladder structure of deoxyribonucleic acid(DNA) submitted by them is still recognized as a milestone in the history of Science. It paved the way to modern molecular biology, the area of science that studies genes and its roles. This study and the knowledge gained from the same to date, have helped in numerous developments in the field of medicine, especially in improved disease diagnosis and in the discovery of plenty of new drugs.

However, Watson and Crick weren’t the first ones to come up with these findings. DNA was discovered many years ago by a Swiss chemist named Friedrich Miescher by the late 1860s. But he nor his successors were able to present an actual shape for DNA. But all those studies and researches laid a scientific foundation to Watson and Crick’s study, who finally proclaimed the most groundbreaking discovery that DNA is a three-dimensional double-helix shaped molecule.

The road to this discovery was not at all easy. It was confusing and complicated. When Florence Bell and William Astbury acquired the first X-Ray diffraction pattern of DNA in the year 1938, they portrayed it as “a close succession of flat or flattish nucleotides standing out perpendicularly to the long axis of the molecule to form a relatively rigid structure”. The existence of RNA and the presence of genetic information in DNA was already founded by 1944. Although the scientists didn’t know the structural and chemical structure of DNA, they started calling it “gene” by the early 1950s, considering DNA to be the smallest unit of genetic information. After multiple failures, by the time Watson and Crick formulated an exact description of DNA’s molecular complex, they knew that this “gene” has been replicating itself since the first life on this earth which was some four billion years ago.

Now, this double-helix molecule is not just a microscopic organic structure. The discovery made by James Watson and Francis Crick with the help of the findings by their predecessors now represents ‘Us’ and what makes us ‘Us’. We share our DNA with a lot of living things, some feel natural and the others feel odd, we share about 98% of our DNA with chimps and almost 50% with bananas! The understanding of evolution, history, or even the mystery behind our unique behaviors would have remained unsolved without the discovery of DNA and its molecular structure. The knowledge gained from all these understandings now acts as the pillar of many current advances in ethics, science, and medicine like genetic fingerprinting, forensic, etc. That is how the double helix, the face of DNA, became the face of modern biological science as well.


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