The Discovery and uses of DNA
DNA is part and parcel of modern medical science. DNA was first identified earlier than many would belief, though a fuller understanding is incredibly recent. While the work of Frances Watson and James Crick is lauded, they are but two of the pioneering scientists involved. For over one hundred years scientists have developed an awareness of Genomics. Today, their work has a huge influence on the way that medicine is practised.
Genomics, as the study of DNA is formally called, came into it’s own in the 1970’s. That followed a series of breakthroughs in the post war period. Notably the discovery of the Double Helix, in 1952, by Watson and Crick. In the 1960’s work was carried out by a team led by Nirenberg and Khorana who won the 1968 Nobel Prize for Medicine as a result of cracking the genetic code.
In 1977 the first complete sequence of a genome had been identified. This work, by Frederick Sanger, opened up the possibility to research specific genomes. Soon afterwards, in 1983, the genome causing Huntingtons Disease was located: later on allowing new forms of treatment. In 1985 the concept of genetic profiling was in place. This is used not only in medicine but by organisations such as law enforcement agencies.
Genomics has led to changes in treatments. However, it has not been without controversy. One outcome of Genomics is the possibility to clone living things. This is seen by many as a massive positive breakthrough that will tackle all manner of illnesses. To others, it is an example of ‘playing god’ and going beyond what is ethically or morally acceptable. The concept of cloning has been put to the test. In the mid nineties ‘Dolly the Sheep’ was born. Dolly, was cloned.
In 1990 a ‘Human Genome Project’ was launched. It set out to sequence every single part of a human genome. (There are over three billion parts to a sequence). In 1999 the first chromosome was sequenced. New technologies following 2000 led to a rapid increase in the number of DNA sequences that were being completed. Seventy times as many were being sequenced in 2007 compared to before.