Determining the structure of the biomolecule deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) was arguably the most important chemical discovery of the 20th century. This structure implied how genetic material is passed along from generation to generation, and from cell to cell in a living being. Soon scientists were studying how these replications happen in finest detail, making possible a new understanding of heredity and of hereditary disease. In turn, these discoveries led to a new biotechnology beyond antibiotics.
In 1962 James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins jointly received the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their 1953 determination of the structure of DNA. Because the Nobel Prize can be awarded only to the living, Wilkins’s colleague Rosalind Franklin, who died of cancer at the age of 37, could not be honored.
Maxine Singer helped decipher the human genetic code—the chemical language that DNA uses to create the proteins that keep our bodies going and growing. One of her special concerns is recombinant DNA technology.
Jacqueline K. Barton probes DNA by shooting electrons through it. Her techniques enable her to locate genes, see how they are arranged, and scan them for damage, which may lead to new ways to diagnose and treat diseases.