Origin Of Life: Twentieth Century Landmarks

The Discovery of the Structure of DNA

In 1953, the same year that the Miller-Urey experiment was conducted, James Watson and Francis Crick produced the double helix model of structure of DNA. In 1962 they were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine for the discovery. The prize was shared with Maurice Wilkins; Rosalind Franklin also played a crucial role in the discovery.

Watson and Crick recognised that DNA is the molecule of heredity; the molecule that carries genetic information. The importance of the discovery of the double helix was recognised as soon as it was published. As in the case of the Miller-Urey experiment, it resulted in a new scientific discipline: molecular biology.

Along with prebiotic chemistry (which resulted from the Miller-Urey experiment), molecular biology is one of the main disciplines on which the search for the origin of life has been based.

It is interesting to note that Watson's interest in genetics was kindled by Erwin Schrödinger's book "What Is Life?", first published in 1944. In the book, Schrödinger wrote "...the most essential part of a living cell - the chromosome fibre - may suitably be called an aperiodic crystal" ( Schrödinger's emphasis). At a talk given on March 2, 1993, at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, he said that "...otherwise, I would have spent my life studying birds, and no one would have heard of me".