This week the City Voice will be starting our new series of this day in history articles. Every week, we’ll bring you a story of a historical event that happened on this day. This week, we are talking about the discovery of DNA.
The existence of DNA itself was first recognized in 1869, but the classic double helix structure that is so prevalent today was not discovered until nearly a century later. Sixty-seven years ago today, James D. Watson and Francis H.C. Crick, both scientists at Cambridge University, announced that they had discovered that DNA formed a double helix spiral. The discovery was spurred on in part by Watson and Crick’s competitive natures, as they sought to prove Linus Pauling, another DNA scientist, wrong. Pauling had announced his “triple helix” DNA discovery in 1953, publishing conclusions that Watson and Crick believed to be incorrect.
There is significant historical doubt about whether Watson and Crick truly deserve the credit for this discovery. Many of Watson and Crick’s conclusions were based on X-Rays taken by another scientist, Rosalind Franklin. Maurice Wilkins, a colleague of Franklin, showed Franklin’s X-Rays to Watson and Crick immediately before they announced their discovery. While Wilkins shared a Nobel Prize with Watson and Crick in 1962, Franklin sadly died in 1958 and never received credit for her work, without which Watson and Crick might have been unable to make “their” discovery.
The discovery of DNA created the foundation for the modern world. Among other things, the double helix model led to a better understanding of human genetic diseases, allowed for the creation of genetically engineered crops and other organisms, and helped pave the way for the modern use of DNA evidence in criminal trials.