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

By Ruth Moore | Go to book overview

XVI
DAN'S INGENIOUS MECHANISMS

BY PUTTING TOGETHER a few bits and pieces from the living cell, science had succeeded in closely imitating Nature's own way of making the key stuff of life, DNA and RNA.

For the first time the bits and pieces had been identified. Never before had anyone been able to say: this is the hereditary material, this is the stuff of which it is made, this probably is the way in which it is put together. It was one of the greatest achievements of science.

But how did the hereditary materials contrive their effects? How did the DNA fit into and control the chromosomes? How did DNA and RNA pass along their distinctive patterns? Though DNA and RNA had been made in the test tube, the test-tube products did not make new copies of themselves; that ultimate step had not been accomplished. All of these problems were related; they were a part of the formidable and nearly unexplored task of translating chemical and physical findings into the actual living structures that man can see with a microscope and, in the end, with the unaided eye.

Since the rediscovery of Mendel's work in 1900 it had been clear that the chromosomes were the structures that controlled heredity. They carried on and reshuffled the materials that accounted for all likenesses and differences.

But if the Crick-Watson model for DNA was correct, how did the DNA fit into the chromosomes and control them? As usual, there was no easy way to seek the answer to this difficult question. Science could try to work up from DNA to the chromosomes, and from the chromosomes down to DNA. Per-

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