DNA: The Genetic Material

The discovery of the DNA as the genetic material revolutionized biology, especially biomedicine, biotechnology, molecular biology and other scientific fields related to the study of organic life. The discovery of DNA is taking scientist one step closer to truly understanding the mystery of life. It was Avery, Mcleod and McCarty who must be credited with the discovery of the deoxyribonucleic acid as the genetic material.

But their Nobel-prize winning achievement was just the beginning, the study of the DNA grew into leaps and bounds and today scientists, health workers as well as the average person are learning more about the general structure of the DNA, its molecular composition, and most importantly how it passes on genetic information from parent to offspring. In Search of the Genetic Material Gregor Mendel was a monk and at the same time a scientist eager to learn more about life. His experiments allowed him to create a basic framework from which to understand inheritance (Lacadena, 1997).

For this achievement he was honored as the father of genetics. For a very long time, it was already established that genes are responsible as to how an offspring can inherit the physical attributes of the two parents. But in the decades that followed Mendel’s work no one was able to isolate the genetic material from the cell. It would take a series of serendipitous events, to come to pass, before the scientific community was greeted with the pleasant news that Oswald Avery, Colin Mcleod and Maclyn McCarty had finally isolated the genetic material.

Just like any other major discovery this one could not have been possible without the works of great minds that preceded the said breakthrough. The three researchers made a follow-up on a very interesting research made by British scientist, Frederick Griffith. In a truly serendipitous manner, Griffith discovered that by injecting dead but lethal bacteria into mice and injecting it together with harmless and yet living bacteria the mice developed pneumonia (Simmons, 2002).

This is a stunning discovery because for the first time it was documented that a harmless strain of pneumococcal bacteria can be transformed into a lethal strain – into a one that is encapsulated and therefore impossible for the human immune system to defeat. Since it is life that can only give life, Avery and his team of researchers made the conclusion that, “…the dead bacteria might furnish some nutrient to the living bacteria by which they developed a capsule and became lethal” (Simmons, 2002).

But a series of experimentations allowed Avery and his team to isolate the very substance that allowed the transformation; it was not a protein but it was a complex molecule that later will be known worldwide as the deoxyribonucleic acid. Avery and his team had to double-check their results. They fine-tune their experiments and they were able to ascertain that the mice in the aforementioned experiments are not needed to show that a substance from the dead bacteria is responsible for the transformation.

It must be pointed out that prior to these experiments it was already a well-established fact that genes are carried in chromosomes, in the nucleus of the eukaryotic cell. A biochemical analysis revealed that it contains DNA and protein. It would be easy to assume that protein is the genetic material and this is precisely the reason why Avery and his team needed to be sure. A series of experimentation confirmed their results and yet Avery, Mcleod, and McCarty did not pour out the champagne and did not lit any Cuban-made cigars to celebrate, they were extremely skeptical about their discovery (Hausmann, 2002).

They have every reason to doubt their results. Many in the scientific community thought that the genetic material is a protein-based molecule and there is basis for such assumptions. The genetic material is responsible for the synthesis of protein and logic dictates that there is a great chance that this genetic material could also be a protein. But they were wrong and Avery and his team had pinpointed that the DNA is the substance responsible for the proliferation of life on earth.

According to molecular biologists there are four major reasons why they are convinced that the DNA contains the genetic material and these reasons are listed below (Hawley & Mori, 1999): 1. the type of radiation that can cause mutation can …

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