For many years, geneticists determined the genetic makeup of organisms by examining the physical characteristics of their offspring. But with the discovery of the structure of the DNA double helix, first published by James D. Watson and Francis H.C. Crick in 1953 (Nature, 171:964-7), the science of genetics was forever changed. Scientists soon developed techniques to study the genetic message found in all living cells at the molecular level. One of most important of these methods was the use of nucleic acid hybridization in the isolation and characterization of specific DNA sequences.

Nucleic acid hybridization, first described in a classic paper by Julius Marmur and Paul Doty in 1961 (Journal of Molecular Biology, 3:595-617), is based on the finding that two separate but complementary strands of DNA will reassociate under specific conditions to form a double helix. By the late 1960s, the principles of...

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