DNA is a common part of the lexicon in the 21st-century, but the history of this scientific discovery is long and complex. When you are shopping for DNA products for home use, you will usually think of the discoveries of James Watson and Francis Crick. Although we link the discovery of DNA to James Watson and Francis Crick, the pair discovered the double helix shape of DNA in 1953. The history of DNA dates back to 1869 when a Swiss chemist, Friedrich Miescher discovered DNA, which he called nucleic.
Friedrich Miescher Discovered DNA
The name of the Swiss Chemist, Friedrich Miescher, is little-known even though he discovered DNA. In 1869, the Swiss chemist was not looking to make any major discovery but wanted to explore the proteins making up white blood cells. In the process of researching his subject, Miescher was looking to learn about the proteins in white blood cells by obtaining used bandages from a local hospital. The research plan from Miescher was to wash the bandages and remove the proteins from white blood cells. As he moved forward with his work, Miescher identified the presence of what is known to be DNA in the cell nuclei. Miescher would publish his work without receiving any plaudits.
The lack of success for Miescher and his work included a study by Erwin Chargaff that showed no mentions of Miescher in historic scientific accounts. Nature reports the lack of references to Miescher’s work is shocking because he can be identified as the person responsible for the discovery.
Born in Notting Hill, London, Rosalind Franklin’s place in the history of DNA has only been recognized after her death. Franklin worked alongside Watson, Crick, and Maurice Wilson to determine the double-helix shape of DNA. Despite her role as an x-ray crystallographic, Franklin is now seen as being wronged by the failure of the Nobel Prize committee to honor her work alongside the three male scientists in 1962.
Franklin was born into a banking family and was allowed to choose her own career path. The chemist was given a research scholarship at Cambridge University before resigning to further the war effort of World War II. The famous photo 51 proving the double-helix shape of DNA was taken by student Raymond Gosling under the watchful eye of Rosalind Franklin.
The Russian chemist was one of the most important research scientists of the early-20th-century. The chemist published more than 700 papers and was responsible for discovering the carbohydrate ingredient of DNA. Levene’s work into the structure of DNA was continued in the middle of the century by several researchers, including Erwin Chargoff. The work of Phoebus Levene is seen as overly simplistic in modern terms as advances have been made in our understanding of the structure of DNA. Despite this, Levene identified several aspects of the structure of DNA that were expanded upon by the scientists who followed.
The most famous scientists linked to the discovery and understanding of DNA are Francis Crick, James Watson, and Maurice Wilkins. These scientists took the work of scientists from Friedrich Miescher onwards to discover the double-helix shape of DNA.