The Discovery of Dna

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Developmental Biology 278 (2005) 274 – 288


Friedrich Miescher and the discovery of DNA
Ralf Dahm*
Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Department 3 – Genetics, Spemannstr. 35/III, D-72076 Tubingen, Germany ¨ Received for publication 5 October 2004, revised 17 November 2004, accepted 20 November 2004 Available online 21 December 2004

Abstract Over the past 60 years, DNA has risen from being an obscure molecule with presumed accessory or structural functions inside the nucleus to the icon of modern bioscience. The story of DNA often seems to begin in 1944 with Avery, MacLeod, and McCarty showing that DNA is the hereditary material. Within 10 years of their experiments, Watson and Crick deciphered its structure and yet another decade on the genetic code was cracked. However, the DNA story has already begun in 1869, with the young Swiss physician Friedrich Miescher. Having just completed his education as a physician, Miescher moved to Tqbingen to work in the laboratory of biochemist Hoppe-Seyler, his aim being to elucidate the building blocks of life. Choosing leucocytes as his source material, he first investigated the proteins in these cells. However, during these experiments, he noticed a substance with unexpected properties that did not match those of proteins. Miescher had obtained the first crude purification of DNA. He further examined the properties and composition of this enigmatic substance and showed that it fundamentally differed from proteins. Due to its occurrence in the cells’ nuclei, he termed the novel substance bnucleinQ—a term still preserved in today’s name deoxyribonucleic acid. D 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. Keywords: Friedrich Miescher; DNA; Nuclein; Discovery; History; Tqbingen; Felix Hoppe-Seyler; Leucocytes; Spermatozoa; Heredity

Introduction The year 2003 marked the 50th anniversary of the historic characterization of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick with an...
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