Thursday, June 19, 2014

Friedrich Miescher

James Watson and Francis Crick may be the names most associated with DNA, but many people were involved significantly in the study of DNA. Most famously, British biophysicist and X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Elsie Franklin (25 July 1920 – 16 April 1958) took the X-ray diffraction images of DNA which led to the discovery of the DNA double helix. According to Francis Crick, her data was key to determining the structure to formulate Crick and Watson's 1953 model regarding the structure of DNA.

DNA was first isolated by the Swiss physician Johannes Friedrich Miescher (13 August 1844 – 26 August 1895) who, in 1869, discovered a microscopic substance in the pus of discarded surgical bandages. As it resided in the nuclei of cells, he called it "nuclein." He intuited that the molecule played a role in heredity, but did not believe that a single molecule could lead to a huge variety of individuals and species, says Ralf Dahm, of the Institute of Molecular Biology in Mainz, Germany, who has written about Miescher's work. He says Miescher has kept a low historical profile, in part due to his "introverted" and "insecure" personality.

Earlier this year, CureVac, a company based in Tübingen, Germany, that develops RNA-based vaccines and therapies, won a €2 million prize for innovation from the European Union and announced plans to use some of that money to restore the University of Tübingen lab where Miescher made his discovery. Together with the university, the firm wants to transform the lab, the former kitchen of the old town's medieval castle, into a public exhibition about his work and legacy. (The university now uses the space as a computer room.)