Francis Harry Compton Crick, who co-discovered the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in 1953 in Cambridge, England, also developed The Central Dogma of Molecular Biology, and further clarified the relationship between nucleotides and protein synthesis. Crick received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine that he shared with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins in 1962 for their discovery of the molecular structure of DNA. Crick's results on the genetic material found in all living organisms advanced theories of inheritance and spurred further studies into the field of genetics and embryology.
Francis Sellers Collins helped lead the International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium, which helped describe the DNA sequence of the human genome by 2001, and he helped develop technologies used in molecular genetics while working in the US in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. He directed the US National Center for Human Genome Research (NCHGR), which became the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), located in Bethesda, Maryland, from 1993 to 2008. Collins led teams of researchers to use data on human genomes to investigate the genetic aspects of diseases and treatments, the variations among people in terms of their DNA sequences, and the evolution of humans. Collins became director of the NIH in 2009. Some criticized him for his Christian faith and its possible impacts on science funding through the NIH, such as for stem cell research, cloning, and embryonic genetic testing. As a director of the NHGRI and the NIH, Collins helped shape the structures and aims of projects in biology that pursue what he called big science, and he helped relate those projects to federal governments and to private companies.
John Craig Venter helped map the genomes of humans, fruitflies, and other organisms in the US in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and he helped develop an organism with a synthetic genome. In February 2001, Venter and his team published a human genome sequence after using a technique known as Expressed Sequence Tags, or ESTs. Venter worked to bridge commercial investment with scientific research. Venter founded a number of private companies, including the for-profit Celera Genomics, headquartered in Alameda, California, as well as research institutes, such as the not-for-profit J. Craig Venter Institute, located in Rockville, Maryland, and La Jolla, California.
Charles Robert Cantor helped sequence the human genome, and he developed methods to non-invasively determine the genes in human fetuses. Cantor worked in the US during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. His early research focused on oligonucleotides, small molecules of DNA or RNA. That research enabled the development of a technique that Cantor subsequently used to describe nucleotide sequences of DNA, a process called sequencing, in humans. Cantor was the principal scientist for the Human Genome Project, for which scientists sequenced the entirety of the human genome in 2003. Afterwards, Cantor became the chief scientific officer for Sequenom Inc., a company that provided non-invasive prenatal genetic testing. Such tests use a pregnant woman's blood to identify genetic mutations in a fetus during the first trimester of pregnancy.
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.
George McDonald Church studied DNA from living and from extinct species in the US during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Church helped to develop and refine techniques with which to describe the complete sequence of all the DNA nucleotides in an organism's genome, techniques such as multiplex sequencing, polony sequencing, and nanopore sequencing. Church also contributed to the Human Genome Project, and in 2005 he helped start a company, the Personal Genome Project. Church proposed to use DNA from extinct species to clone and breed new organisms from those species.
William Thomas Astbury studied the structures of fibrous materials, including fabrics, proteins, and deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, in England during the twentieth century. Astbury employed X-ray crystallography, a technique in which scientists use X-rays to learn about the molecular structures of materials. Astbury worked at a time when scientists had not yet identified DNA’s structure or function in genes, the genetic components responsible for how organisms develop and reproduce. He was one of the first scientists to use X-ray crystallography to study the structure of DNA. According to historians, Astbury helped establish the field of molecular biology as he connected microscopic changes in the structure of materials to changes in their large-scale properties. Astbury and his images helped scientists to understand the structure of DNA and its role in genetics.
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. The most well-known Hershey-Chase experiment, called the Waring Blender experiment, provided concrete evidence that genes were made of DNA. The Hershey-Chase experiments settled the long-standing debate about the composition of genes, thereby allowing scientists to investigate the molecular mechanisms by which genes function in organisms.
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 April 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick published “Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure of Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid” or “A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid,” in the journal Nature. In the article, Watson and Crick propose a novel structure for deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA. In 1944, Oswald T. Avery and his group at Rockefeller University in New York City, New York published experimental evidence that DNA contained genes, the biological factors called genes that dictate how organisms grow and develop. Scientists did not know how DNA’s function led to the passage of genetic information from cell to cell, or organism to organism. The model that Watson and Crick presented connected the concept of genes to heredity, growth, and development. As of 2018, most scientists accept Watson and Crick’s model of DNA presented in the article. For their work on DNA, Watson and Crick shared the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Maurice Wilkins.