On April 25, 1953, molecular biologists James Watson and Francis Crick published a paper describing the double-helix structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). DNA is a molecule shared by all living organisms. Each molecule of DNA is encoded with information about the individual organism.
 
Watson and Crick’s discovery of DNA’s structure answered a crucial scientific question—how do living things reproduce themselves? Watson and Crick described how the twisted-ladder shape of DNA “unzipped” and replicated itself. As the enthusiastic Watson proclaimed to his friends “We have discovered the secret of life!”
 
The double helix was perhaps not the secret of life, but it did revolutionize the field of genetics. The Human Genome Project, for example, is an enormous, international effort to identify and map all the genes in the human genome. National Geographic’s Genographic Project uses genetics to help trace the migratory history of the human species.
 
Watson wrote a nicely readable book about their discovery, The Double Helix. He, Crick, and their colleague Maurice Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1962. Today, several scientific organizations celebrate April 25 as “DNA Day.”
colleague
Noun

a coworker or partner.

crucial
Adjective

very important.

DNA
Noun

(deoxyribonucleic acid) molecule in every living organism that contains specific genetic information on that organism.

enormous
Adjective

very large.

enthusiastic
Adjective

excited.

gene
Noun

part of DNA that is the basic unit of heredity.

Noun

the study of heredity, or how characteristics are passed down from one generation to the next.

Genographic Project
Noun

National Geographic project that uses genealogy to trace the migratory history of the human species.

genome
Noun

set of genes, or chromosomes, that hold all the inherited characteristics of an organism.

helix
Noun

spiral shape.

identify
Verb

to recognize or establish the identity of something.

migratory
Adjective

organisms that travel from one place to another at predictable times of the year.

molecular biologist
Noun
scientist who studies the structure and activity of molecules essential to life.
molecule
Noun

smallest physical unit of a substance, consisting of two or more atoms linked together.

proclaim
Verb

to announce publicly.

replicate
Verb

to duplicate or reproduce.

revolutionize
Verb

to completely change a process or way of doing something.

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