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DNA, Fifty Years To the Day 202

Posted by Hemos
from the changing-the-world dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Today being the fiftieth anniversary (April 2, 1953) of the Watson-Crick double-helical, DNA discovery [to quote, 'We wish to put forward a radically different structure...'], there is an interesting tally of completed gene sequences here, and ones still being worked, including the Ames strain of the anthrax bacteria. It also appears that the only lifeforms not using DNA for code storage are a few viruses like the common cold."
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DNA, Fifty Years To the Day

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  • It sure made a great subtitle for the last Solider Of Fortune2 game. ;-)

    Seriously though, any future developments in this area of science will surely pave the way for a new novel from Michael Crichton. ;-)
  • Also today a new base pair was found. In addition to TA,AT,GC,CG the EV pair was found.

    Scientists are calling this the EVIL PAIR. Finding this in DNA insures that the organism is PURE EVIL.
    • by silhouette (160305) on Wednesday April 02, 2003 @06:17PM (#5648540)
      Like so many other things, the Simpsons have been predicting this for years. And without duplicates, too.

      Lionel Hutz: Ladies and gentlemen, I'm going to prove to you not only that Freddy Quimby is guilty, but that he is also innocent of not being guilty. I refer you to my expert witness, Dr. Hibbert.

      Hibbert: Well, only one in two million people has what we call the "evil gene". (holds up a card showing DNA) Hitler had it, Walt Disney had it, and Freddy Quimby has it. (chuckles)

      Hutz: Thank you, Dr. Hibbert. I rest my case.

      Judge: You rest your case?

      Hutz: What? Oh no, I thought that was just a figure of speech. Case closed.
    • You mean like ... Dave Nelson?
      • Even if you do learn to speak correct English, whom are you going to speak it to?

        Wouldn't that be:
        Even if you do learn to speak correct English, to whom are you going to speak it?
    • "In other news..." (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Overly Critical Guy (663429) on Wednesday April 02, 2003 @06:33PM (#5648655)
      1. Find obvious article to whore in.
      2. Skim the summary.
      3. Reply and title your post "In other news..."
      4. Take premise of article and twist it into something obviously absurd. Make sure it is not clever, original, or funny in any way.
      5. Wait for dull, crackhead moderators with itchy mouse fingers to click it up into the various realms of Funny That Is Not.

      I will either be modded down, someone will post another "step" to my list that references responses like mine, or some Anonymous Coward will copy my style as they usually do.
    • > Finding this in DNA insures that the organism is PURE EVIL.

      Another detection method is to check E bit in the header if there is one.
  • by japhar81 (640163) on Wednesday April 02, 2003 @05:37PM (#5648179)
    The first 500 people to request one, will recieve their very own four-assed monkey.
  • ...will it be another fifty years before I can grow a custom pet?

    My real spider monkey can't wait that long to meet the world. Oooo AH AH AHHH!!!!

    Seriously, happy 50th, DNA!
  • Rosalind Franklin (Score:5, Informative)

    by SUB7IME (604466) on Wednesday April 02, 2003 @05:38PM (#5648194)
    Let's not forget Rosalind Franklin - the woman who actually took the X-ray photographs of the DNA molecule. Without her, Watson and Crick would not have been able to discern the DNA structure!
    • by ivi (126837) on Wednesday April 02, 2003 @05:55PM (#5648348)

      Here's a lot more of the story of her work:

      Book Talk on "The Dark Lady of DNA..."
      [Broadcast on Saturday 29 March 2003]

      Listen via Audio on Demand from:

      www.abc.net.au/rn/arts/booktalk/audio/booktalk_290 32003_2856.ram

      Brenda Maddox on why the young English biophysicist Rosalind Franklin was never to know how vital her own work was to Francis Crick and James Watson's discovery of 'the secret of life.'

      The biographer of D.H. Lawrence, W.B. Yeats and Nora Barnacle, James Joyce's wife, Brenda Maddox talks about her life of Rosalind Franklin at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature.

      See also:

      "The Dark Lady Of DNA"
      Author: Brenda Maddox/Rosalind Franklin
      Publisher: Harpercollins
    • by MacJedi (173) on Wednesday April 02, 2003 @06:12PM (#5648498) Homepage
      There was a pretty good (and free) article about Rosalind Franklin in Physics Today last month [aip.org] that gives a good overview of her, her X-ray photographs, and her much discussed role in the discovery of DNA.

      /joeyo

    • Re:Rosalind Franklin (Score:5, Informative)

      by shellbeach (610559) on Wednesday April 02, 2003 @06:32PM (#5648646)
      Well said ... I was going to mention her myself, but you beat me to it! It's worth noting that Rosalind didn't propose a model herself because she wanted to be sure that she had all the empirical evidence first - and that included the fact that DNA formed two different (A and B) conformations depending on the amount of water present - a fact that Watson and Crick never concerned themselves with (actually, there's a third conformation as well, the really kinky (literally) Z-DNA ... but nobody knew about that back then!)

      So Watson and Crick did not do any experimental reseach, proposed a model based on Rosalind's unpublished results, never gave her any credit ... and, in the end, there was no conclusive proof that their modal was the correct model (in fact, it was Rosalind who provided that proof and improved on their model in the weeks following W&C's publication). Not to mention the fact that Watson performed an utterly dastardly character assasination on her in his book The Double Helix .... If it wasn't so tragic it'd almost be funny ...

      But while we're at it, don't forget that along side Rosalind Franklin was Ray Gosling, a PhD student who did a lot of the work and never got any credit at all. Just like most PhD students, I might add :)

      FWIW, the Brenda Maddox's bio of Rosalind Franklin is fantastic reading - probably the best biography of any scientist I have read. It is inspiring, moving and extremely well researched (especially when the author, AFAIK, had no science background before writing the book).

      • I'd like to see this modded up... A friend of mine who has a number of birth defects is working on a auto-biographical project. My girlfriend, an amateur photographer, took a number of pictures of her scars from multiple surgeries. A couple pictures feature our friend's spinal scars with portraits of Rosalind in the background... it was very moving indeed.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 02, 2003 @05:39PM (#5648201)
    have eliminated the troll-genes back then, before it became too late...
  • quote: "It also appears that the only lifeforms not using DNA for code storage are a few viruses like the common cold."

    Does that mean that NT admins considered a virus since they use hard drives for code storage, opposed to DNA.
    • RNA has been demonstrated to have enzyme-like properties in many cases, in some cases even being able to cleave itself if spliced properly. There are more than a few organisms storing information on means other than DNA though few do so exclusively. And for those who doubt, Ms. Franklin's work was most certainly pirated by Crick, Watson, and wilkins. Had this same situation occured today, Ms. Franklin could easily have defeated them in court for theft of intellectual property. Crick was a 10th year PhD
    • Virus' are not lifeforms. They have an incomplete set of DNA that they splice into a healthy cell's DNA. The healthy cell starts making more virus' instead of new cells. Because of this virus' are considered to not be living since all they do is add their DNA to a real lifeform's DNA to reproduce.
  • by radiashun (220050) on Wednesday April 02, 2003 @05:42PM (#5648236)
    Click here [exploratorium.edu] for video of the anniversary of the discovery of the structure of DNA. This was taped at Cold Springs Harbor Lab, where Watson is currently the director. Also, you can find their original paper that was published in Nature annoucing the discovery. It's interesting to note that since their discovery of DNA's double-helical structure, neither Watson nor Crick have discovered or published anything significant since then.
    • by Milo Fungus (232863) on Wednesday April 02, 2003 @06:09PM (#5648476)

      <QUOTE>It's interesting to note that since their discovery of DNA's double-helical structure, neither Watson nor Crick have discovered or published anything significant since then.</QUOTE>

      RUBBISH. Francis Crick proposed the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology [euchromatin.org], which is at least as important as his proposed model of DNA. In a nutshell, the central dogma states that the information encoded in the linear sequence of nucleotides in genomic DNA is transcribed into the linear sequence of nucleotides in RNA, and that the linear sequence of nucleotides in RNA is translated into the linear sequence of amino acids in proteins. At the time Crick postulated this, the link between RNA and the other two was very poorly understood. This was a remarkable contribution to the field. Crick did a whole lot more than just model building.

      • Well, yes, that's true. But he did this as part of his work with DNA. I mispoke I guess. I should've said "Post-DNA discoveries" or something. By the way... Crick wasn't entirely accurate with the central dogma. For instance, he thought the central dogma was a one-way road. He didn't think it was possible for you to go from RNA -> DNA, which isn't true. Many viruses do this using reverse transcriptase.
        • by Fnkmaster (89084) on Wednesday April 02, 2003 @06:33PM (#5648654)
          Dude, Francis Crick basically built an entire discipline, an entire branch of science. Watson made some substantial contributions to that discipline (mRNA etc.) as well. These two guys didn't just discover the double helix structure of DNA, they did tons of seminal work that set the stage for modern genomics, protein science and molecular biology.


          Ya know, if I only succeed at creating one entirely new field of knowledge in life, I think I'll look back on my life as a success. Also, as a note, for the last 20 years (or more?) Francis Crick has been working on the rather different field of neurobiology and specifically, the biological origins of human consciousness. In particular, "Crick has published extensively on the neural basis of attention, REM sleep, consciousness and visual awareness" to quote his biography blurb from the Salk Institute. Perhaps it hasn't made headlines, but that doesn't mean he hasn't done other important research.


          Most importantly, you don't seem to realize that the way science works is that sometimes you don't really know exactly how important something is when you are working on it. Sometimes, only in retrospect does it become clear if a piece of work is an interesting and novel phenomenon on its own, or more deeply significant, "groundbreaking" research.

          • Most importantly, you don't seem to realize that the way science works is that sometimes you don't really know exactly how important something is when you are working on it. Sometimes, only in retrospect does it become clear if a piece of work is an interesting and novel phenomenon on its own, or more deeply significant, "groundbreaking" research.

            Very true. Also, the parent poster claims that Crick didn't make any "post-DNA discoveries", which is an absurd thing to say. Most scientists focus intensely
    • It's interesting to note that since their discovery of DNA's double-helical structure, neither Watson nor Crick have discovered or published anything significant since then.

      Uhh, that is not really the case. Crick had contributions to the prediction of the polyproline II and collagen structures (collagen is the most abundant protein in mammals, and the subject of my graduate research). And, IIRC, that is not Crick's only contribution. There is a hell of alot more science being done that isn't ending up o
      • There is a hell of alot more science being done that isn't ending up on the cover of Time....

        I've heard it said that it takes anywhere from 10 to 30 years for the value of a scientific advance to be realized, and this fits with my own observations. If you look at the progress of crystallography since Franklin's DNA pictures, it took decades for the field to yield more than a handful of high-resolution macromolecular structures and only in the past ten to fifteen years has it really exploded. Yet much of
      • And he's also been working on the concepts of consciousness and intelligence and memory alongside Christof Koch at CalTech. He's published a book recently on some of this.
    • by silhouette (160305) on Wednesday April 02, 2003 @08:19PM (#5649293)
      neither Watson nor Crick have discovered or published anything significant since then.

      This is true in Watson's case, unless you count blatantly sexist, racist, unsupported "research" [mindfully.org] as significant.

      Which we don't. Can you believe this guy received a Nobel Prize?
      He's done at least one other "publication" like this, too.

  • Bake a Cake (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ken@WearableTech (107340) <<moc.rjsmailliwnek> <ta> <nek>> on Wednesday April 02, 2003 @05:42PM (#5648240) Homepage Journal
    In honor of the birthday I'm going to make a a cellular peptide cake with mint frosting ;-)
  • "For instance, when compared to a computer file, the simplest of plant viruses (called viroids) contains a miniscule 240 'bits' of information to sustain their circular chromosome. "

    Well I find it interesting to compare this with a computer virus which is nuthing but a software program (usually larger than 240 bits). Which makes me wonder, if we can create a virus... can we someday create a more sophisticated life form?
  • But virii *do* use DNA for code storage, and the article had absolutely nothing to contradict that.

    What the article said is that prions do not use DNA for code storage. Prions != virii.

    steve
    • I'd be hard pressed to call prions alive - they actually are misfolded versions of single, native proteins. Prions can impart "information", since they propagate by inducing normally folded proteins to misfold, but calling them a living thing is a bit of a stretch.
    • ..but the plural of virus is viruses or (to use the Latin form) viri. More generally, the plural of a Latin noun ending with -us is -i, although in modern English it's OK to use English plural.
    • But virii *do* use DNA for code storage, and the article had absolutely nothing to contradict that.

      You're correct, and the summary had absolutely nothing to contradict that also. *most* viruses use DNA for their genetic code. *some* use RNA. (hence the comment 'except for a few viruses').


  • The government has finally collected a sample from every citizen for the TIA database.
  • by ASquare (79388) on Wednesday April 02, 2003 @05:46PM (#5648280)
    ...they only described it's structure. The discovery of DNA goes back to at least 1929, possibly earlier (depending on which discovery you're looking for.)

    1865 - Gregor Mendel shows that heredity is passed in discreet units

    1900 - Three scientists independently verify Mendel's work, and formulate the laws of heredity

    1909 - Willhelm Johannsen coins the term gene

    1911 - Thomas Hunt Morgan shows that chromosomes contain genes

    1929 - Phoebus Levin discovers that genes are made up of nucleotides (i.e., genes are made up of DNA)

    1943 - William Astbury obtains first X-ray diffraction pictures of DNA

    1951 - Rosalind Franklin's X-ray diffraction images show DNA has two different forms, and that it takes the form of a helix

    1953 - Watson and Crick formulate their model

    • Discreet - Free from ostentation or pretension; modest.
      Discrete - Consisting of unconnected distinct parts.

      I dont think Mendel meant to say that the passing is done in a modest fashion.
  • acknowledgements.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by urbazewski (554143) on Wednesday April 02, 2003 @05:48PM (#5648298) Homepage Journal
    From the acknowledgements section of their letter to Nature:
    We have also been stimulated by a knowledge of the general nature of the unpublished experimental results and ideas of Dr. M. H. F. Wilkins, Dr. R. E. Franklin and their co-workers at King's College, London.
    Not included in their acknowledgements section: the fact the "general information" about Dr. R. E. Franklin's work was in fact a very specific look at her crystallography data which was removed from her lab without her knowledge or consent by Dr. M. H. F. Wilkins.

    Here's a brief NPR review [npr.org] of a recent biography of Rosalind Franklin and a more extensive review [sciam.com] in Scientific American which details the theft of data by Watson/Crick/Wilkins.

    • This whole Franklin thing tends to get blown out of proportion a bit. Wilkins was Franklin's (and W&C's) superviser, and as such her knowledge or consent doesn't really apply here.

      Of course hers was a very significant contribution to the discovery, and she would certainly have been included on the Nobel prize, were it not for the simple fact that she was dead by the time they got around to awarding it, and Nobel's aren't awarded posthumously.

      Incidentally, she did produce data that went along way to hel

  • "It also appears that the only lifeforms not using DNA for code storage are a few viruses like the common cold."

    I was under the impression that viruses were just floating pieces of DNA that get into a cell and reprogram it to produce more of those strands of DNA. How can you say viruses are not using DNA when that is basically what they are? (or else high-school biology has taught me wrong).
    • Viruses use RNA if I recall correctly.
    • Re:viruses are DNA? (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Viruses are 'particles' that cannot replicate on their own. They contain genetic material, in the form of either DNA or RNA and this genetic material encodes for proteins important for the life cycle of the virus. When a virus infects a cell, it takes over the host cell machinary to manufacture more viruses. Very few viruses are naked strands of genetic material (DNA or RNA), often they are housed in cages of protein and may or may not have membranes (which they will have stolen from the host cell as they b
    • Re:viruses are DNA? (Score:5, Informative)

      by HarveyBirdman (627248) on Wednesday April 02, 2003 @06:05PM (#5648450) Journal
      Some viruses use RNA.

      Influenza, measles, mumps and polio are all RNA based viruses.

      DNA viruses include herpes and hepatitis. I think HIV is a DNA type but I don't recall offhand.

  • It's a pitty... (Score:1, Redundant)

    by jade42 (608565)
    that Rosalind Franklin rarely gets any acclaim for her work. Watson and Crick built the model of DNA on here shoulders.
    • > Watson and Crick built the model of DNA on here shoulders.

      What a strong woman.

      (I'm sure you've all seen the photo of the model, it's huge and must be quite heavy too with all the metal parts.)

  • Douglas Adams (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by bjtuna (70129)
    Interestingly enough, Douglas N. Adams (DNA) of Hitchhikers' Guide fame, was also born in 1952 (March, not April).
  • This story was also covered in this month's Smithsonian magazine and was a decent read.

    Now if they could only create a DNA custom engineered beowulf cluster of atomic supermen...
  • Now only if they were to find a way to fit the shrunken glove....
  • by Spire (101081)
    So viruses are considered "alive" now?
  • Not a very good link (Score:3, Informative)

    by Mr. McGibby (41471) on Wednesday April 02, 2003 @06:00PM (#5648397) Homepage Journal
    Except that the link posted in the post is for microbial genomes only. There are a lot of other genomes that have sequenced. NCBI is better place to look for this info.

    Here is the *definitive* page for completed genomes:

    http://www.ncbi.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=Genom e [nih.gov]
  • Douglas Noel Adams
    born March 11th, 1952
    died May 11th, 2001

    I know, different DNA, but hey...
  • by v_1_r_u_5 (462399) on Wednesday April 02, 2003 @06:04PM (#5648432)
    One could construct a two-tape turing machine that simulates the four combinations; if you're interested in mixing computer science with DNA, check out this paper [uni-magdeburg.de].
  • "Dr. Watson, will you please comment a little on the role and contributions of Dr. Rosalind Franklin in the discovery of the structure of the DNA?"
  • ... that DNA was just a late college April Fools joke and the original pranksters simply haven't had the heart to let the world know it's being made fun of.
  • I bet it was really discovered on April 1st, but they were worried that /. would post 5 copies of the discovery.
  • genetic algorithms (Score:3, Informative)

    by v_1_r_u_5 (462399) on Wednesday April 02, 2003 @06:09PM (#5648482)
    DNA is credited to the inception of genetic algorithms. The main idea behind genetic algorithms is the emulatation of natural selection and evolution by means of DNA manipulation. This is accomplished by many DNA manipulation techniques; the two most prominent are crossover, where two different chromosomes swap DNA information, and genetic mutation, where a random [DNA] bit is rotated. If you're interested in genetic algorithms, check out this introduction [ic.ac.uk].
  • Whatever you think of the politics of the announcement, it was first made public in The Eagle [camcity.co.uk], which is still a local pub in Cambridge, and worth a visit if you're in town. It's a little over-commercialised (it was a major hang-out for USAF folks in WWII, and gets more than its fair share of tourists), but it's still a good pub.
  • Did Watson and Crick wait until April 2, 1953 so that people couldn't dismiss their new-fanged double-helix stuff as an April Fool's joke?
  • I Was Thinking... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by occamboy (583175) on Wednesday April 02, 2003 @06:16PM (#5648529)
    I was thinking about this very subject the other day.

    It seems strange to me that while, in principle, the discovery of the structure of DNA was a wonderful thing, it doesn't seem to have affected the average person's life very much. Far less, it seems, then Dr. Fleming's noticing that bread mold contamination was killing his bacterial cultures.

    Perhaps I'm missing something, and understanding the structure of DNA is contributing more than I think. But, it occurs to me that if we could put a man on the moon in about 10 years, we ought to be able to do something more with DNA in 50 years.

    I suspect that science has become too bureaucratized and institutionalized to know which end is up anymore.

    Sigh.
    • Strapping some people to a missile is a bit less complicated than dealing with genes. Biotech isn't rocket science, its a whole lot more complex. Also i'd say the average person has been affected by advances in genetics. Gene therapy is a standard treatment nowadays. Also GM foods are already making their way into many peoples daily lives, Vitamin A Rice or whatever. Anyway, its not like the average person has been affected much by the moon landing, we came, we saw, we picked up some rocks, drove around a b
      • Gene therapy is a standard treatment nowadays

        Gene therapy is NOT a standard treatment for anything. It is still experimental and has been shut down completely two or three times in the last decade because of unexpected deaths of patients. The only success of gene therapy to date has been a French study in which 9 children with SCID (Severe Combined Immune Deficiency) were succesfully treated with gene therapy. Even this study has been halted for now because two of the patients have developed leukemia-like

        • The only success of gene therapy to date has been a French study in which 9 children with SCID (Severe Combined Immune Deficiency) were succesfully treated with gene therapy. Even this study has been halted for now because two of the patients have developed leukemia-like symptoms.

          I don't know much about the details of gene therapy, but seven out of nine were ok?
          What is the success rate for SCID otherwise?
    • Your analogy is kind of bizarre. It's almost like saying 'we noticed this plant killed people when ingested, and it only took 10 years to develop a concentrated poison from it, so why is it taking so long to build a computer out of this element silicon they discovered 50 years ago?'

      Noticing something kills bacteria and then feeding that to people, while being something of an intellectual leap, wasn't exactly a great effort in terms of making mass quantities of it. Using DNA research to actually do someth
    • The discovery of the structure went a long way towards the discovery of the method of replication (W&C actually hinted at this in the paper) and of the specifics of its function. Without it we could not determine the DNA sequence, without which any study of genetics can only go so far.

      That we have a (mostly) completed human genome sequence only 50 years after the discovery of the structure is absolutely astounding. This of course is only the first step, the practical applications (while they exist alr

  • I bet nobody took them seriously for a week afterwards!!

    Or probably people believed more those days (there was no /. to overdo the April fools day).
  • Wouldn't this story have been more appropriately placed unter the biotech topic?
    (hint, check the icon)
  • by Colonel Panic (15235) on Wednesday April 02, 2003 @08:01PM (#5649180)
    I thought viruses used to be considered non-living since they could not reproduce on their own... They hae to use their host's cellular machinary to reproduce.

    But perhaps the thinking on this has changed...
  • Watson, Crick and Rosalind Franklin's discovery of DNA.
  • Among the two major viral classes, they are either rod-shaped or have a quasi-spherical shape termed an icosahedron. Similar to a miniature soccer ball, the icosahedron is composed of 5-sided and 6-sided faces (pentamers and hexamers).

    This is a truncated icosahedron. The one formed with pentagons and hexagons is special because it's the roundest polyhedron possible with this number of faces or vertices, which probably has something to do with the success of this shape in virii.

    An icosahedron is formed of

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