international DNA Day

International DNA Day is celebrated annually on April 25 to commemorates the day in 1953 when James Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, Rosalind Franklin and colleagues published papers in the journal Nature on the structure of DNA entitled Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid” in the scientific journal Nature in its 171st volume on 25 April 1953 which described the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA, using X-ray diffraction and the mathematics of a helix transform.

DNA stands for Deoxyribose Nucliec Acid. It is the hereditary material which contains the information for creating and maintaining humans and almost all other organisms. Nearly every cell in a person’s body has the same DNA. Most DNA is located in the cell nucleus (where it is called nuclear DNA), but a small amount of DNA can also be found in the mitochondria (where it is called mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA). The information in DNA is stored as a code made up of four chemical bases: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T). Human DNA consists of about 3 billion bases, and more than 99 percent of those bases are the same in all people. The order, or sequence, of these bases determines the information available for building and maintaining an organism, similar to the way in which letters of the alphabet appear in a certain order to form words and sentences.

DNA bases pair up with each other, A with T and C with G, to form units called base pairs. Each base is also attached to a sugar molecule and a phosphate molecule. Together, a base, sugar, and phosphate are called a nucleotide. Nucleotides are arranged in two long strands that form a spiral called a double helix. The structure of the double helix is somewhat like a ladder, with the base pairs forming the ladder’s rungs and the sugar and phosphate molecules forming the vertical sidepieces of the ladder. DNA can replicate, or make copies of itself. Each strand of DNA in the double helix can serve as a pattern for duplicating the sequence of bases. This is critical when cells divide because each new cell needs to have an exact copy of the DNA present in the old cell.

Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid”  is often termed a “pearl” of science because it is brief and contains the answer to a fundamental mystery about living organisms. This mystery was the question of how it is possible that genetic instructions are held inside organisms and how they are passed from generation to generation. The article presents a simple and elegant solution, which surprised many biologists at the time who believed that DNA transmission was going to be more difficult to deduce and understand. The discovery had a major impact on biology, particularly in the field of genetics, enabling later researchers to understand the genetic code.

Molecular Biology is the application of physics and chemistry to biological problems led to the development of molecular biology. Molecular biology is particularly concerned with the flow and consequences of biological information at the level of genes and proteins. The discovery of the DNA double helix made clear that genes are functionally defined parts of DNA molecules and that there must be a way for cells to make use of their DNA genes in order to make proteins. Linus Pauling was another chemist who was very influential in developing an understanding of the structure of biological molecules and In 1951, Pauling published the structure of the alpha helix, a fundamentally important structural component of proteins. In early 1953, Pauling published an incorrect triple helix model of DNA. Both Crick, and Watson, thought that they were racing against Pauling to discover the structure of DNA.

Max Delbrück was a physicist who recognized some of the biological implications of quantum physics. Delbruck’s thinking about the physical basis of life stimulated Erwin Schrödinger to write, What Is Life? Schrödinger’s book was an important influence on Crick, Watson, and Maurice Wilkins who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in recognition of their discovery of the DNA double helix. Delbruck’s efforts to promote the “Phage Group” (exploring genetics by way of the viruses that infect bacteria) was important in the early development of molecular biology in general and the development of Watson’s scientific interests in particular.

DNA structure and function is related to its function. This was described at the end of the article: “the specific pairing suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material”.The “specific pairing” is a key feature of the Watson and Crick model of DNA, the pairing of nucleotide subunits. In DNA, the amount of guanine is equal to cytosine and the amount of adenine is equal to thymine. The A:T and C:G pairs are structurally similar. In particular, the length of each base pair is the same and they fit equally between the two sugar-phosphate backbones (Figure 2). The base pairs are held together by hydrogen bonds, a type of chemical attraction that is easy to break and easy to reform. After realizing the structural similarity of the A:T and C:G pairs, Watson and Crick soon produced their double helix model of DNA with the hydrogen bonds at the core of the helix providing a way to unzip the two complementary strands for easy replication: the last key requirement for a likely model of the genetic molecule. The base-pairing suggested a way to copy a DNA molecule. Just pull apart the two sugar-phosphate backbones, each with its hydrogen bonded A, T, G, and C components. Each strand could then be used as a template for assembly of a new base-pair complementary strand.

When Watson and Crick produced their double helix model of DNA, it was known that most of the specialized features of the many different life forms on Earth are made possible by proteins. Structurally, proteins are long chains of amino acid subunits. In some way, the genetic molecule, DNA, had to contain instructions for how to make the thousands of proteins found in cells. From the DNA double helix model, it was clear that there must be some correspondence between the linear sequences of nucleotides in DNA molecules to the linear sequences of amino acids in proteins. The details of how sequences of DNA instruct cells to make specific proteins was worked out by molecular biologists during the period from 1953 to 1965. Francis Crick played an integral role in both the theory and analysis of the experiments that led to an improved understanding of the genetic code. Other advances in molecular biology stemming from the discovery of the DNA double helix eventually led to ways to sequence genes. James Watson directed the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes facilility. The ability to sequence and manipulate DNA is now central to the biotechnology industry and modern medicine. The austere beauty of the structure and the practical implications of the DNA double helix combined to make Molecular structure of Nucleic Acids; A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid one of the most prominent biology articles of the twentieth century. In 2003 it was declared that the Human Genome Project was very close to complete, and “the remaining tiny gaps were considered too costly to fill. Every year from 2003 onward, annual DNA Day celebrations have been organized by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), starting as early as April 23 in 2010, April 15 in 2011 and April 20 in 2012. April 25 has since been declared “International DNA Day” and “World DNA Day” by several groups.


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