1953 – The Discovery of DNA

In the latest of our 200 year anniversary blogs, we’re looking at the Discovery of the molecules of live, Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid, or DNA as it’s commonly known!

We’ve now reached 1953 in our series of blogs documenting science advances since Philip Harris was founded in 1817. 1953 saw the birth of pop star Cyndi Lauper, the inauguration of Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower as the 34th US President and Hans Adolf Krebs received the Nobel Prize for his work in discovering the Krebs Cycle. However, it was also the year the most important scientific building block was discovered, Deoxyribonucleic Acid, or DNA as it’s more commonly known.

Throughout the 20th century, many scientists have tried to study DNA. In the early 1950s two scientists, Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins, studied DNA using x-rays. Although most of their work provided the preamble for the real advancement in the study of DNA, it is the discovery of the double helix formation which spearheaded the advancement we have seen in DNA technology.  Rosalind Franklin produced an x-ray photograph which broke the consensus that DNA was a triple helix structure, and confirmed that it was indeed a double-helix.

In 1953 Franklin’s work was published in Nature magazine. Her findings were published third in the journal behind Crick and Watson and her former colleague Wilkins who co-authored the paper with Stokes. Tragically, Rosalind Franklin died at the age of just 38 from Ovarian Cancer and did not live to see the impact her studies of DNA would have on the scientific community for generations to come.

Despite this, and thanks to historians and activists, Franklin’s contribution is now given the due recognition that it deserves. Fortunately science has moved forward since 1953 and the role that women have played in science is now getting the due credit that it deserves.