April 1, 2013 (Vol. 33, No. 7)

When Watson and Crick in February 1953 discovered that the shape of the DNA molecule was a double helix, it was the first step in a life science revolution that reverberates now and will continue to do so into the future. Moreover, the publication of their findings in Nature on April 25, 1953—“We wish to suggest a structure for the salt of deoxyribose nucleic acid”—established the scientific cornerstone upon which the global bioindustry has been built.

I’m certain that Watson and Crick understood the critical importance of their discovery as evidenced by this paragraph toward the end of their paper: “It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated [adenine-thymine, guanine-cytosine] immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material.”

But I am not convinced they knew the degree to which their seminal paper would literally change the scientific world and, indeed, transform our basic understanding of life in a manner similar to Darwin.

To celebrate the Watson and Crick accomplishment, GEN is publishing this special section we call DNA@60. One of the six articles takes us back in time to see how the structure of DNA was eventually discovered. The other five highlight how our understanding of the structure and function of the DNA molecule has led to the development of new tools and techniques that are impacting every field in the life sciences—and beyond.

Dr. Raymond Gosling, who actually worked in the lab with Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin, whose x-ray diffraction studies of DNA largely clarified the molecule’s structure, recounts those historical laboratory activities (The Genesis of a Discovery: First Steps). Dr. Erlich writes about current and future trends in PCR (Development and Evolution of PCR).

Dr. Rashid Bashir describes the outlook for nano-based next-gen sequencing tools (Direct DNA Sequencing Using Nanopore Sensors) while Dr. Ian Dunham takes a look at ENCODE (ENCODE-ing the Future), which was created to identify all functional elements in the human genome sequence. Meanwhile, Dr. Richard Stein writes about how epigenetics will change the disease-treatment paradigm on a global basis in the decades ahead (Epigenetics Opens New Avenues for DNA Research).

Finally, Dr. Alan Templeton illustrates how DNA studies are constantly modifying and drastically altering our perceptions of human evolution and how our species came to populate most of the earth (Revolutionizing the “Out of Africa” Story). I hope you enjoy our celebration of DNA@60!

Want to have some fun with DNA? Check out this cute game from the Nobel Prize’s website, “DNA—The Double Helix”.

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