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

By Ruth Moore | Go to book overview

XV
OCHOA AND KORNBERG: THE SYNTHESIS OF DNA AND RNA

THE RACE WAS ON and the goal within sight.

The determinative stuff of life had been traced from the organs to the tissues, to the cells, to the nucleus, to the chromosomes, to DNA and RNA. The chemistry of both had been solved and their probable structure worked out. This brought the next great goal nearer: the synthesis of these master materials of life.

Only when DNA and RNA could be broken down into their constituent parts and put together again would science know with reasonable certainty that it had the ultimate building blocks--the units used by Nature for the construction of the whole living world. And only then could science approach the problem of the organization of life, and the failure of organization--cancer, aging, and other medical problems--without guesswork about the basis upon which they rest.

In one sense, however, these were largely unspoken goals.

Severo Ochoa and his aides, Marianne Grunberg-Manago and Priscilla Ortiz, were working on another part of the problem of DNA and RNA.

Ochoa, the head of the department of biochemistry of New York University, was studying the mechanics of phosphate incorporation into ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the important compound that supplies energy for most of the functions of the cell.

As long ago as 1888, Miescher had written to a friend: "I cannot help regarding the chemical dynamics of phosphoric acid toward water, bases, and proteins as one of the most

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