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Human genome Tuesday, 30 May, 2000, 16:55 GMT 17:55 UK
The history of genetics
Crick and Watson gave us the double helix
Crick and Watson gave us the double helix
Click here for a timeline of genetics.

Modern genetics may be promising to revolutionise medicine, and even change what it means to be human, but the origins of the science stem from a humble origin - peas.

In the 1860s, the Moravian monk Gregor Mendel pioneered the study of inheritance. He cultivated nearly 30,000 pea plants, carefully analysing seed and plant characteristics.

By following certain traits through the generations, he realised that some traits appeared to be dominant while others would be recessive and fail to show when certain pea plants where crossed.

Mendel's work was extraordinary, but it was many decades before his research received the recognition it deserved.

DNA described

In 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick famously described the structure of DNA, the molecule that carries the genetic code. Theirs was undoubtedly a landmark achievement, but it could not have happened without the help of others like Rosalind Franklin who obtained sharp X-ray diffraction photographs of the molecule.

Now, the first draft of the entire sequence of human DNA is expected. But rather than being the end of the history of genetics, it is the start of a much greater endeavour which will revolutionise medicine and transform the way we think about ourselves.

A genetics timeline

By BBC News Online's Dr Damian Carrington



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