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In a series of experiments in the late 1970s, Alec J. Jeffreys in the UK and Richard A. Flavell in the Netherlands developed a technique to detect variations in the DNA of different individuals. They compared fragments of DNA from individuals’ beta-globin genes, which produce a protein in hemoglobin. Previously, to identify biological material, scientists focused on proteins rather than on genes. But evidence about proteins enabled scientists only to exclude, but not to identify, individuals as the sources of the biological samples.
In 1951 and 1952, Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase conducted a series of experiments at the Carnegie Institute of Washington in Cold Spring Harbor, New York, that verified genes were made of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. Hershey and Chase performed their experiments, later named the Hershey-Chase experiments, on viruses that infect bacteria, also called bacteriophages. The experiments followed decades of scientists’ skepticism about whether genetic material was composed of protein or DNA.