Medicine through time

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What is DNA?

Every living cell is made up of proteins and nucleic acid. DNA is the abbreviated (and easier to remember) name of this acid. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is made up of four parts that join together within a cell. The structure, shown below, is called a Double Helix.

Image from Wikipedia, created by Richard Wheeler and copy permitted under the GMU licensing agreement.

How was it discovered?

Scientists had known that DNA must exist for some time but did not know the structure or how it worked. In 1951 the scientists James Watson and Francis Crick began a chemical study with the aim of identification of the structure of DNA. They experimented with molecule structures, chemical analysis and studied X Ray findings and previous molecular studies. In 1953 they published their findings. They had identified a structure that could be applied to all cells, the double helix.

How does knowing about it help doctors?

Understanding of the double helix structure of DNA allowed the genetic code to be understood. This was accomplished in the early 1960's. This development has led to a number of medical advances: cloning of DNA has the potential to lead to a range of almost unbelievable operations becoming possible - think of the implications of the development of clones, it can lead to replacement body parts amongst other things. In 1982 genetically engineered insulin was produced as a result of the DNA breakthrough. This has been of great value to people with Diabetes.

DNA - other

There are many ethical issues surrounding potential uses of the knowledge that Crick, Watson and their colleagues have shared with the world. The potential to clone human genes was first achieved in 1977 - human gene cloning is now subject to extremely strict restrictions on ethical grounds. Genetic cloning as a result of these findings has resulted in clones animals being created. The first was 'Dolly the Sheep' who was born (if that's the right word?) in 1996. See for further details.





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