Molecular biology has come a long way in the nearly 40 years since James Watson and Francis Crick published their classic paper on the three-dimensional structure of DNA (Nature, 171:737-738, 1953). Since then, the intimate relationship between nucleic acids and proteins has not only been deciphered, but also harnessed and manipulated to fuel a whole new industry.

Armed with sophisticated equipment, today's molecular biologists can easily extract, purify, and sequence DNA, RNA, and proteins, and even create short stretches of DNA bases (oligonucleotides) and short proteins (peptides) to their own specifications. The effects of these new developments have reverberated far beyond the biochemical research arena to such diverse fields as agriculture, horticulture, human and veterinary medicine, and forensics.

The functional connections among DNA, proteins, and traits began to be unraveled in 1909, when English physician Archibald Garrod established a key link between what he called "inborn errors...

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