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Happy Platinum Anniversary DNA

70 years ago, on February 28th 1953, in the Cavendish laboratory at Cambridge University, James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the double helix structure of DNA, and the science of molecular genetics was born.

Less than 30 years later bacteria were being genetically engineered to manufacture human proteins such as insulin to allow for an easier and more affordable treatment for diabetic patients that is still being used today.

In another 20 years in 2003, and to mark the 50 year anniversary of DNA discovery the Human Genome was finally fully sequenced. As a PhD student, I was working on sequencing human chromosome 21 at the time and it was a slow and laborious task. I am very proud to have played a small part in determining the human genetic code and would not have believed then, that in another 20 years a single person can sequence an entire human genome in a little more than a day (it took over 10 years and Worldwide collaboration to complete the draft human genome).

And now onto the platinum anniversary, the full genetic code of thousands different species is known. The subtle differences in genetic code that makes all living things unique is widely known. We can accurately alter DNA at the level of a single nucleotide (out of a potential 3 billion nucleotides in the human genome), which is being applied to making Genomic Medicine a reality. This is being explored for ever more genetic disorders and will undoubtedly increase the quality of life for so many people.

In addition, we can now confidently analyse the transcriptome of a single cell, allowing subtle differences in gene expression to be identified and further targeted for therapeutic intervention.

The pace of discovery since the double helix was first defined is astounding, it has undoubtedly advanced our understanding and treatment of inherited diseases, and I am excited to see what the future will hold for this most fundamental molecule of all living things.

Dr Melisa Baptista Senior Lecturer Genetics & Molecular Biology.


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