This Was The First Image Of DNA Seen By Humans

The form in this picture is familiar — it's a double helix, the basis for life, and we've seen it over and over. But in 1952, James Watson and Francis Crick laid eyes on these strands for the very first time.

The X-ray image was captured by Rosalind Franklin. Seeing it for the very first time was no doubt magical and awe-inspiring. The researchers didn't know much about what they'd discovered, but they knew it was an important moment. Watson later described this ground-breaking moment in his book, Watson and Crick and DNA:

The instant I saw the picture my mouth fell open and my pulse began to race. The pattern was unbelievably simpler than those obtained previously. Moreover, the black cross of reflections which dominated the picture could only arise from a helical structure.

Of course, this snippet of life is undetectable without powerful cameras. Sixty years later, we can strands of DNA in even more detail thanks to scanning electron microscopes, but you never forget your first time. [The Atlantic]


Comments

    I'm curious: exactly what are we seeing in this image? What part of the strand? what kind of magnification? What parts are artifact or reflections?

      It's an X-ray diffraction image. What you are seeing is the pattern generated by the x-rays being scattered by the DNA structure. It doesn't show a particular part at any specific magnification in the same way a more modern imaging technique would, but the regular pattern indicates a regular structure.

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