On this day, 59 years ago, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to scientists who discovered the double helix structure of DNA.
English scientists Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins made the discovery in 1953 and received the Nobel Prize for their efforts on October 18, 1962.
Their discovery was the first piece of the puzzle for understanding the human genome and the importance of DNA – and the precursor to commercially available ancestry tests.
Scientists have found that the structure of DNA resembles a twisted ladder (pictured above), with the two “helical” strands joined by chemical compounds and acting like the digital code that contains life’s instructions.
The new information has not only changed our approach to studying humans, animals and plants, but also our approach to the development of environmental and industrial biotechnology.
In the early 1970s, researchers began to use genetics to understand the relationships between humans and the relationships between other species.
Geneticists have identified patterns in DNA that differed slightly from population to population.
But it was not until the 2010s that this technology became readily available to the public.
Now Australians can purchase DNA testing online, with Ancestry DNA, Living DNA, 23 and Me, My Heritage DNA, and Find my Past offering tools to identify our ethnicity, loved ones, and potential vulnerability to disease.
The Nobel Prize organization honored the three scientists “for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its importance for the transfer of information in living matter”.
But since then, the wider scientific community has posthumously recognized Rosalind Franklin as a fourth major contributor to the discovery of the double helix.