1953 – UK
‘The self reproducing genetic molecule DNA has the form of a double helix’
The structure explains how DNA stores information and replicates itself.
The helical strands of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) consist of chains of alternating sugar and phosphate groups. Four types of base – adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T) – form the rungs of the DNA ladder, which can only be linked by hydrogen bonds in four combinations: A-T, C-G, T-A, G-C.
The DNA code is based on the order of these four bases and is carried from one generation to the next. The sequence of base pairs along the length of the strands is not the same in DNAs of different organisms. It is this difference in the sequence that makes one gene different from another.
1996 – Scotland
‘A mammal can be cloned from adult tissues’
Clones are genetically identical individuals produced from the same parent by non-sexual reproduction.
Wilmut and his team at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh, Scotland, took the nuclei of somatic cells from the tissues of mammary glands of a mature sheep. They took eggs from another sheep, removed their nuclei, which contain DNA, and fused the somatic nuclei with the gamete cells by passing electric pulses through them. The process replaced the DNA of the egg with the genetic material from the mammary tissue. The cloned eggs were placed in a culture dish where they grew into embryos. The researchers cloned 277 eggs, of which 29 grew into embryos. These were transplanted into 13 ewes, acting as surrogate mothers. Five months later one lamb was born. The lamb, Dolly, had no father and its genes came entirely from the udder of a ewe. Dolly the cloned sheep died in 2003.
The mammal cloning experiment has been repeated successfully on other species of mammals. These experiments show that cloning humans is possible, but it has major theological, ethical, moral and social implications.
1952 – London, England
‘Description of the basic helical structure of the DNA molecule’
Her work is used, unaccredited, in Watson & Crick’s Nobel Prize-winning paper, from information ‘secretly’ leaked from Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins.
Through her work on X-ray diffraction, she realised that the ‘backbone’ of the DNA molecule was on the outside.
By 1952, Franklin had taken the clearest pictures of the molecules to date, which provided evidence of a helical, or spiral structure.
Watson & Crick would eventually articulate a ‘double-helix’ construction.