Unravelling the Double Helix: The Story of DNA

Gareth Williams. Pegasus, $35 (528p) ISBN 978-1-64313-215-0
With this history of how DNA’s role in cellular reproduction and inheritance was uncovered, Williams, emeritus professor of medicine at the University of Bristol, capably conveys the process of how scientific discoveries are made in general, including the false trails, dead ends, and recalcitrant colleagues along the way. He begins his story in 1868, relating how German physician Friedrich Miescher discovered “nuclein,” later renamed DNA, and shows the halting steps scientists took before conclusively determining in 1944 that the substance was central to the transmission of inherited characteristics. He also demonstrates how some, like American biochemist Alfred Mirsky, fought the idea that a molecule as simple as DNA could possibly be responsible for so complex an activity. Along the way, Williams relates how 19th-century Mendelian genetics were merged with 20th century advances in biochemistry, and concludes by recapping the race to discover the three-dimensional structure of DNA. His contention that British scientist Maurice Wilkins, who shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for the discovery with James Watson and Francis Crick, treated his colleague Rosalind Franklin far more fairly than is usually portrayed, will be received with interest, if not necessarily agreement, by genetics buffs. For them, and popular science readers in general, this is a history well worth perusing. (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 07/05/2019
Release date: 10/01/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
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