The Discovery of the Structure of DNA
Perhaps the Greatest Scientific Breakthrough
The Birth of Genetic Engineering?
On April 25th 1953, two British scientists, Francis Crick and James Wilson published an article in which they say they have answered the question about how living creatures reproduce themselves. They claim to have identified the nature of the material that makes us who we are. What they have actually done, is unravel the structure of DNA and with it, the secret of life itself. They were an unlikely pair, one was an ex-physicist the other an ornithology student.
The ex-Physicist and the Ornithology student
Before Crick and Watson, scientists knew that each of us is made up of generic code, but not what it is, or how it works. They knew that this genetic information was carried, in the body, by the chemical DNA, or Deoxyribonucleic Acid. Crick and Watson's suggestion of a double-helix structure for DNA provided the answer.
Now, scientists understood how a gene worked on a molecular level.
Gene therapy was used to treat a young boy with Severe Combined Immune Deficiency, a genetic defect expected to kill him before his first birthday.
Gene therapy has been used to save this boy's life, and could be used to cure a wide range of generic diseases from Huntington's Chorea to Cystic Fibrosis. It's the latest application of this discovery that makes the news headlines virtually every day.
From genetic fingerprinting to paternity testing, DNA is the definitive measure of both identity and heredity.
A whole branch of science concerned with The Human Genome Project was made possible by Crick and Watson as scientists try to unravel what makes us who we are.
Most controversially, this discovery also takes us to the extremes of genetic engineering, from GM crops to the possibility of biological cloning, and all the ethical issues that encompasses.