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Wednesday, 1 December, 1999, 20:26 GMT
Long road to inheritance
Crick and Watson gave us the double helix Crick and Watson gave us the double helix

The science of modern genetics can be traced back to the Moravian monk Gregor Mendel in the 1860s.

His experiments on peas pioneered the study of inheritance. He cultivated nearly 30,000 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.

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 human chromosome has been sequenced - we know precisely how its DNA is ordered. But this is but one more step on a much longer road that will revolutionise medicine and transform the way we think about ourselves.

A genetics timeline

  • 1869 - The chemical material DNA is discovered in cells.
  • 1909 - The term 'gene' is first used and the chemical composition of DNA is found.
  • 1920 - Chromosomes are proposed as the mechanism by which inherited characteristics are passed on.
  • 1944 - DNA is first connected to the inheritance of traits.
  • 1951 - The first sharp X-ray diffraction photographs of DNA are obtained.
  • 1953 - Crick and Watson describe the structure of DNA.
  • 1956 - DNA is made artificially.
  • 1966 - DNA is found to be present not only in chromosomes but also in the mitochondria.
  • 1969 - The first single gene is isolated.
  • 1970 - The first artificial gene is made.
  • 1973 - Genetic engineering begins with the ability to insert genetic material.
  • 1977 - DNA from a virus is fully decoded for the first time.
  • 1976 - An artificial gene is inserted into a bacterium and, for the first time, works normally.
  • 1978 - Bacteria are engineered to produce insulin.
  • 1981 - A gene is transferred from one animal species to another.
  • 1983 - The first artificial chromosome.
  • 1984 - Realisation that some, non-functioning DNA is different in each individual - genetic fingerprinting is born.
  • 1988 - The Human Genome Organisation is aiming to map the complete sequence of DNA.
  • 1990 - The first human gene experiment takes place to try to treat a four-year-old girl.
  • 1993 - Mice are cured of cystic fibrosis as a result of gene therapy.
  • 1996 - After six years work, the brewer's yeast genome is decoded, the most complex organism so far.
  • 1998 - The first multi-celled animal has its genome decoded - a worm called C. elegans.
  • 2000? - The first draft of the human genome is revealed.

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See also:
01 Dec 99 |  Sci/Tech
Book of life: Chapter one
01 Dec 99 |  Sci/Tech
Biology's new world
10 Dec 98 |  Sci/Tech
Small worm makes history

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