Franklin William Stahl studied DNA replication, bacteriophages, and genetic recombination in the US during the mid-twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. With his colleague Matthew Meselson, Stahl performed an experiment called the Meselson-Stahl experiment, which provided evidence for a process called semi-conservative DNA replication. Semi-conservative replication is a process in which each strand of a parental DNA double helix serves as a template for newly replicated daughter strands, so that one parental strand is conserved in every daughter double helix. Those findings supported the Watson-Crick Model for DNA replication proposed in 1953 by James Watson and Francis Crick, convincing many biologists about DNA’s structure and replication in the 1950s. Stahl’s genetics research, especially that of DNA replication, showed researchers how genetic information is distributed within a cell and is passed down from cell to cell.

In 1956, Gunther Stent, a scientist at the University of California Berkeley in Berkeley, California, coined the terms conservative, semi-conservative, and dispersive to categorize the prevailing theories about how DNA replicated. Stent presented a paper with Max Delbrück titled “On the Mechanism of DNA Replication” at the McCollum-Pratt Symposium at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. In response to James Watson and Francis Crick’s proposed structure of DNA in 1953, scientists debated how DNA replicated. Throughout the debate, scientists hypothesized different theories about how DNA replicated, but none of the theories had sound experimental data. Stent introduced DNA replication classes that, if present in DNA, would yield distinct experimental results. Conservative, semi-conservative, and dispersive DNA replication categories shaped scientists' research into how DNA replicated, which led to the conclusion that DNA replicated semi-conservatively.

In an experiment later named for them, Matthew Stanley Meselson and Franklin William Stahl in the US demonstrated during the 1950s the semi-conservative replication of DNA, such that each daughter DNA molecule contains one new daughter subunit and one subunit conserved from the parental DNA molecule. The researchers conducted the experiment at California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California, from October 1957 to January 1958. The experiment verified James Watson and Francis Crick’s model for the structure of DNA, which represented DNA as two helical strands wound together in a double helix that replicated semi-conservatively. The Watson-Crick Model for DNA later became the universally accepted DNA model. The Meselson-Stahl experiment enabled researchers to explain how DNA replicates, thereby providing a physical basis for the genetic phenomena of heredity and diseases.

Matthew Meselson, Franklin Stahl, and Jerome Vinograd, developed cesium chloride, or CsCl, density gradient centrifugation in the 1950s at the California Institute of Technology, or Caltech, in Pasadena, California. Density gradient centrifugation enables scientists to separate substances based on size, shape, and density. Meselson and Stahl invented a specific type of density gradient centrifugation, called isopycnic centrifugation that used a solution of cesium chloride to separate DNA molecules based on density alone. When Meselson and Stahl developed the technique in the mid-1950s, scientists had no other way to separate macromolecules that were of similar size but varied in density. Meselson and Stahl employed their method to determine how DNA replicates, became known as the Meselson-Stahl experiment. Density gradient centrifugation using cesium salts allowed scientists to isolate DNA and other macromolecules by density alone.

Subscribe to DNA replication--Regulation