The chemical structure of DNA I – Genes – the units of inheritance (3/10)
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The chemical structure of DNA I – Genes – the units of inheritance (3/10)


This is Tübingen
in southern Germany. Its castle was the unlikely setting for a breakthrough
in molecular biology. Friedrich Miescher
was a young researcher stationed at the laboratory here. On the advice of his uncle,
he studied the cell nucleus. His experimental material
was white blood cells taken from the pus-soaked bandages of wounded soldiers
at the local hospital. In the nucleus, he found protein but he also isolated
another substance, a long, sticky molecule that he noted
was rich in phosphorus. He called it nuclein.
We call it nucleic acid. He was the first to discover DNA. This would have been
remarkable enough but Miescher went on how to suggest
how it might be used in hereditary. In a letter to his uncle he wrote that “molecules of DNA
would be quite capable of carrying “all the richness “and all the variations
of hereditary transmissions “just as all the words
of all languages “can be carried by just
24 to 30 letters of the alphabet.” His predication of the genetic code
came in 1892 but Miescher did not live
to see it accepted The freezing laboratory contributed
to his early death from pneumonia. But, in any case, it would be
another 60 years before science was ready to accept
that DNA carried the genetic code.

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