If only Darwin had known about … DNA.
February 28: General Interest
1953 : Watson and Crick discover chemical structure of DNA
On this day in 1953, Cambridge University scientists James D. Watson and Frances H.C. Crick announce that they have determined the double-helix structure of DNA, the molecule containing human genes.
Though DNA–short for deoxyribonucleic acid–was discovered in 1869, its crucial role in determining genetic inheritance wasn’t demonstrated until 1943. In the early 1950s, Watson and Crick were only two of many scientists working on figuring out the structure of DNA. California chemist Linus Pauling suggested an incorrect model at the beginning of 1953, prompting Watson and Crick to try and beat Pauling at his own game.
On the morning of February 28, they determined that the structure of DNA was a double-helix polymer, or a spiral of two DNA strands, each containing a long chain of monomer nucleotides, wound around each other. According to their findings, DNA replicated itself by separating into individual strands, each of which became the template for a new double helix.
In his best-selling book, The Double Helix (1968), Watson later claimed that Crick announced the discovery by walking into the nearby Eagle Pub and blurting out that “we had found the secret of life.” The truth wasn’t that far off, as Watson and Crick had solved a fundamental mystery of science–how it was possible for genetic instructions to be held inside organisms and passed from generation to generation.
Watson and Crick’s solution was formally announced on April 25, 1953, following its publication in that month’s issue of Nature magazine. The article revolutionized the study of biology and medicine. Among the developments that followed directly from it were pre-natal screening for disease genes; genetically engineered foods; the ability to identify human remains; the rational design of treatments for diseases such as AIDS; and the accurate testing of physical evidence in order to convict or exonerate criminals.
Crick and Watson later had a falling-out over Watson’s book, which Crick felt misrepresented their collaboration and betrayed their friendship. A larger controversy arose over the use Watson and Crick made of research done by another DNA researcher, Rosalind Franklin, whose colleague Maurice Wilkins showed her X-ray photographic work to Watson just before he and Crick made their famous discovery.
When Crick and Watson won the Nobel Prize in 1962, they shared it with Wilkins. Franklin, who died in 1958 of ovarian cancer and was thus ineligible for the award, never learned of the role her photos played in the historic scientific breakthrough.
And if only Darwin had met or read properly the work of Gregor Mendel
Archive for February, 2010
Following on from 2009’s Charles Darwin’s bicentenary Darwin 200, this year has been dubbed 2010 International Year of Biodiversity. You can find out more about IYBD at www.biodiversityislife.net – stamp issues in Britain and around the world will mark the event. It also coincides with British Association’s National Science and Engineering Week events from 12 to 21 March 2010 www.nsew.org.uk . Both websites have good event listings and lots of teaching ideas and resources. Many IYBD events are planned in zoos and other venues across the UK. There is encouragement for backyard biologists or biodiversity Our Darwin stamp book partners RZSS Edinburgh Zoo are very busy with events as well as hosting the IUCN secretariat www.iucn.org. IUCN the International Union for Conservation of Nature prepare the IUCN Red Data List www.iucnredlist.org of how rare some of the species that Darwin saw on his Voyage of the Beagle have become .
Darwin’s work on coral reefs, islands and how animals become specialised, adapted and eventaully become separate species on islands are very important today for conserving and protecting biodiversity hotspots like the Philippines.
Our Philippines Trail at the zoo is mentioned on the IYBD and half term and National Science Week activities. We have used many Philippines stamps from the zoo and personal collections to illustrate more about these amazing islands. Stamps show the flags, cultural dances, history, produce and wildlife. Two of the most beautiful stamp sets used are WWF stamps of our Warty pigs (Red Data List Wild status: Critically endangered) and Philippine Spotted deer (Red Data List Wild status: Endangered)
Endangered Mammals stamps
13 April 2010 The Royal Mail will issue a special edition of stamps for 2010 Year of Biodiversity. The latest set in the Action for Species series shows images of mammals and will feature 10 UK endangered species for which conservation action plans are in place. Look on the Royal Mail website in the next few weeks for pictures of these beautiful new stamps – some more backyard biodiversity.
More projects like this can be found at wild about gardening, the new website www.wildaboutgardens.org