"Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid" was an article published by Francis Crick and James D. Watson in the scientific journal Nature in its 171st volume on pages 737–738 . It was the first publication which described the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA.
This article 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 ...view middle of the document...
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" 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
It is not always the case that the structure of a molecule is easy to relate to its function. What makes the structure of DNA so obviously related to its function was described modestly at the end of the article: "It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately 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 . 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.
Indeed, the base-pairing did suggest 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...