1952: Geneticists Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase publish the findings of their so-called blender experiments, which conclude that DNA is where life’s hereditary data is found.
Prior to these experiments, so named because they were conducted using a regular kitchen blender, it was generally believed that proteins — not DNA — were the genetic stuff of life. (DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, was first isolated by Swiss physician Friedrich Miescher in 1869, but it took nearly a century before its centrality to life was ascertained.)
Using the blender, Hershey and Chase separated the protein coating from the nuclei of bacteriophages, the viruses that infect bacteria. Injecting nucleic acid into the bacterial cell, they found that it was the acid itself, and not the protein, that caused the transmission of genetic information.
Their conclusion was that genes are made of the nucleic acid DNA.
It was just seven months later that James Watson and Frances Crick published their work establishing the structure of the DNA molecule: a double helix. Watson and Crick shared the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with another DNA researcher, Maurice Wilkins. Rosalind Franklin, the chemist whose X-ray diffusion photographs of DNA molecules showed their essential structure and paved the way for the trio’s work, received nothing.
Hershey would subsequently share the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work in discovering the properties of DNA. But Chase, who served as Hershey’s lab assistant during his experiments and whose name appears on the paper, was — like Franklin before her — snubbed.
Photo: Alfred Hershey shared the Nobel Prize with two other American scientists for “discoveries concerning the replication mechanism and the genetic structure of viruses.” (Bettmann/Corbis)
This article first appeared on Wired.com Sept. 20, 2007.
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