WIKIMEDIA, APERSONOn this day (25 April) in 1953 Nature published three papers describing the structure of DNA: one from James Watson and Francis Crick of Cambridge University that proposed the now famous double helix, and two accompanying papers from Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins of King’s College, London, who used X-ray diffraction images to support the helix hypothesis.
Today, 60 years later, science celebrates the ground-breaking discovery. For our part, we have published a poster outlining the history of genetics and genomics, from the initial 1953 structural findings to the completion of the draft human genome sequence 10 years ago, and especially the deluge of knowledge that has been unveiled in the last decade. We also have a series of webinars in which George Church and other leading scientists explore what the future holds for DNA research. And Genome Biology commemorates the landmark with a fascinating in-depth interview with Raymond Gosling—then a biophysics graduate student working under Wilkins and one of two named authors, along with James Watson, still alive to tell the tale.
In a story packed with fascinating, often humorous, details about lab research in the 1940s, Gosling describes the “serendipitous” events that led to the discovery, from acquiring the finest quality DNA samples from a Swiss biochemist to finding that paperclips were perfect for the painstaking task of stretching out the fibers in preparation for X-ray imaging in the basement of the chemistry building at King’s College. Gosling also discusses the use of a condom to seal the collimator of the camera into which they were pumping hydrogen to produce clear pictures.
As for the resulting images of DNA, Gosling recalls how “this beautiful spotted photograph . . . was the most wonderful thing. And I knew at the time that what I’d just done was to produce a crystalline state in these fibers, and if then the DNA was the gene material, I must be the first person ever to make genes crystallize.” It was at that moment Gosling realized it would only be a matter of time before the structure of DNA was revealed. “I can still remember vividly the excitement of showing this thing to Wilkins and drinking his sherry by the glass . . . by the gulpful,” he recalled.
To bring the story up to date, Genome Biology also invited 13 of the scientists currently serving on its editorial board to discuss the most important advances in the field since 1953. The list includes the discovery of introns and gene fragmentation, the rise of restriction mapping, microarrays, DNA sequencing, the Human Genome Project, ancient DNA analysis, and horizontal gene transfer. Happy birthday, DNA!