DNA is a nucleic acid, is a kind of instruction manual that resides cells of all living things, and even types of viruses. Eukaryotic organisms or those who have a nucleus in their cells store the DNA material in the nucleus. These instructions tell each cell how to develop, and what functions to perform. Prokaryotes organisms, like archae and bacteria, do not have a nucleus, so they store this essential information in their cytoplasm. DNA is a remarkable material, and scientists have been studying it for over a century to shed light on the myriad and diverse natural phenomena of life. But who discovered DNA?
DNA’s Introduction to Scientific Inquiry
DNA was first noticed 1869 by a Swiss doctor, Friedrich Miescher, who examined pus from surgical wounds very closely and discovered a strange microscopic substance in the nucleus of cells. He called what he found nuclein because it was found in the nucleus. Was Friedrich Miescher who discovered DNA? Technically, yes. He was the first person to recognize DNA as a compelling substance within a cell to be studies, but although he discovered it, he did not know what it was.
The DNA Story
In 1919, Phoebus Levene identified base, sugar and phosphate, and called it a nucleotide unit. He went on to suggest that DNA might be strung together nucleotide units, held with phosphate groups. William Astbury in 1937 provided evidence that DNA had a regular structure. The structure itself remained unknown, though scientists continued to be intrigued by DNA and wrestle with the puzzle of it.
In 1952 it was confirmed that DNA was connected to genetics and inheritance by Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase. The famous Hershey-Chase experiment was really just confirming what Oswald Avery had brought to light in 1944. Although Avery had already made this observation and even demonstrated it, in science things need to be replicated many times to be considered “fact”.
The next step in the DNA story is probably the most famous because it involves Watson and Crick. The pair of James D. Watson and Francis Crick studied some X-ray diffraction images that Rosalind Franklin had taken, and they come up with some groundbreaking results that changed the course of genetics research forever and led to the the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003. What Crick and Watson found is that the DNA structure is actually a double helix. Once this was understood, advanced study of the nature of DNA could be performed. However, things are still a little be fuzzy concerning who discovered DNA, because at the same time Watson and Crick were publishing their findings, a man named Maurice Wilkins also published a paper concerning the structure of DNA. Watson, Crick, and Wilson all ended up receiving Nobel Prizes for this important discovery, but there are many debates still alive about who actually deserved the honor. Meanwhile, Watson and Crick are more widely mentioned in textbooks, and so are the most alive in the minds of the general public as the scientists who discovered the DNA structure.