Ask A Scientist
I would like to know how they found DNA and who came up with it?
Asked by: Mandy Spadine
School: Owego Apalachin Middle School
Teacher: Chris Mahon
Hobbies/Interests: Soccer, lacrosse, skiing
Career Interest: Soccer Player
Answer from Susannah Gal
Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, Bingha
Research area: Molecular genetics of plants, cancer cell biology, and DNA computing
Additional interests: Science and religion interaction, presentations to school and community groups on DNA topics
PhD schools: Joint program at Johns Hopkins University and the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences, National Institutes of Health
Family: Husband and daughters, 13 and 8
Interests/hobbies: Contra dancing and travel
DNA (short for deoxyribonucleic acid) is the substance found in all living things on this planet. It acts like a blueprint for your cells, telling them how to make all the proteins, which do the work of the cell (make things, break other things down, give cells structure, etc.). You got your DNA in the form of chromosomes from your parents and you’ll give a copy of your DNA to your children.
DNA was first discovered by a Swiss man named Friedrich Miescher (1844-1895) who was trying to study leucocytes or white blood cells in the pus of used bandages that he got from a local hospital in Tuebingen, Germany in 1869. He wanted to isolate the nuclei of these cells, which is the compartment in all human cells that contains DNA. When he did this and then pulled the nuclei apart, he found a substance that was not like any other people had studied before. He called it “nuclein” because he found it in the nucleus. Later he isolated this nuclein from the sperm of salmon from the Rhine River in Basel Switzerland and further characterized it. One of his students first called it nucleic acid. But DNA is most often associated with two other famous scientists, James Watson and Francis Crick. These two men, working with information from Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins, solved the structure of DNA in 1953. The structure is now known as the double helix because it is like a twisted (helical) ladder. In solving the structure, Watson and Crick also proposed how that structure could potentially help make copies of itself and be passed from generation to generation. For this, the three men received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1962 (Ms. Franklin had died by this time and could not receive the prize). For 4 years, I worked at the Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel Switzerland, named for the famous scientist that discovered DNA. Some of the information for answering this question was obtained from the institute website while other information was obtained from the site for the Nobel prizes (http://nobelprize.org). You can learn more about DNA and actually isolate it at the new Decker Life Sciences Learning Center at the Roberson Museum.