What is DNA Day About Anyway?

You may have seen our recent posts about DNA-themed activities and events for DNA Day. But what is DNA Day all about anyway?

DNA Day was created in 2003 by concurrent (Senate and House) congressional resolution to celebrate two important milestones in the study of genetics: the 50th anniversary of the description of the double-helix structure of DNA by James D. Watson and Francis H.C. Crick and the completion of the Human Genome Project.

Watson and Crick

On April 25, 1953 James Watson and Francis Crick published their description of the structure of DNA in the journal Nature. This report is considered one of the greatest scientific contributions of the last century. In 1962 Watson and Crick, along with Maurice Wilkins (another scientist who was involved in solving the structure of DNA), won the Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work.

Biographies of each man, their Nobel lectures, and other resources are available at the Nobel Foundation‘s website.

Rosalind Franklin, whose x-ray images of DNA were critical to solving its structure, was not included in the Nobel prize given to Watson, Crick and Wilkins (Franklin passed away in 1958 and the award is not given posthumously). You can learn about her career and how her work contributed to the solving of the structure of DNA at Nova’s online exhibit “Secret of Photo 51“.

Human Genome Project

The Human Genome Project, completed in 2003, was a 13-year endeavor coordinated by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health. Scientists from around the U.S. and the world contributed to one of the greatest feats of science ever.

The goals of the Human Genome Project were to

  • identify all of the approximately 20,000-25,000 genes in human DNA,
  • determine the sequences of the 3 billion chemical base pairs that make up human DNA,
  • store this information in databases,
  • improve tools for data analysis,
  • transfer related technologies to the private sector, and
  • address the ethical, legal, and social issues (ELSI) that may arise from the project.

If you really want to get into the data, the NCBI Human Genome Resources page offers tons of information about the human genome – you can even download the sequence.