The Coil of Life: The Story of the Great Discoveries in the Life Sciences

By Ruth Moore | Go to book overview

XIV
CRICK AND WATSON: DNA, A HELIX

"I believe that the elucidation of the structure of nucleic acid is the most important scientific problem we face today. It is vastly more important than any of the problems associated with the structure of the atom, for in nucleic acid we are dealing with life itself."

WENDELL STANLY, 1957

AND SO IT WAS DNA. The limitless diversity of life, its orderliness, its form and continuity were controlled and conveyed by the amazing substance called DNA, or in a few cases by the other nucleic acid, RNA. Without the organization of DNA, there would be no living world as we know it.

But how could a bit of matter, a bit measured in hundred- millionths of a milligram, bear within itself all the instructions needed for the construction of a human being or a fruit fly or a lettuce leaf?

For the building of a modern skyscraper, a structure that in size outruns the ordinary building as the huge DNA molecule does most molecules, hundreds of sheets of drawings, each crowded with details and plans, must be prepared. Even this great mass of plans would be as nothing if human beings had to prepare working drawings for the construction of another human being or even a mosquito.

Height, sex, color, all the gross structural features would have to be worked out, and so would all the interior arrangements, the form and placement of the organs and tissues and of the 1,000,000,000,000,000, cells, and all the apparatus for the pro-

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