Fraenkel-Conrat and Singer show that some viruses use RNA as genetic material
10.1 Many people have contributed to our understanding of the structure and function of DNA.
these nuclei. The minute amounts of nuclear material that he obtained were insufficient for a thorough chemical analysis, but he did establish that it contained a novel substance that was slightly acidic and high in phosphorus. This material, which consisted of DNA and protein, Miescher called nuclein. The substance was later renamed nucleic acid by one of his students.
By 1887, researchers had concluded that the physical basis of heredity lies in the nucleus. Chromatin was shown to consist of nucleic acid and proteins, but which of these substances is actually the genetic information was not clear. In the late 1800s, further work on the chemistry of DNA was carried out by Albrecht Kossel, who determined that DNA contains four nitrogenous bases: adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine (abbreviated A, C, G, and T).
In the early twentieth century, the Rockefeller Institute in New York City became a center for nucleic acid research. Phoebus Aaron Levene joined the Institute in 1905 and spent the next 40 years studying the chemistry of DNA. He discovered that DNA consists of a large number of linked, repeating units, each containing a sugar, a phosphate, and a base (together forming a nucleotide).
He incorrectly proposed that DNA consists of a series of four-nucleotide units, each unit containing all four bases — adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine — in a fixed sequence. This concept, known as the tetranucleotide theory, implied that the structure of DNA is too regular to serve as the genetic material. The tetranucleotide theory contributed to the idea that protein is the genetic material because, with its 20 different amino acids, protein structure could be highly variable.
As additional studies of the chemistry of DNA were completed in the 1940s and 1950s, this notion of DNA as a simple, invariant molecule began to change. Erwin Chargaff and his colleagues carefully measured the amounts of the four bases in DNA from a variety of organisms and found that DNA from different organisms varies greatly in base composition. This finding disproved the tetranucleotide theory. They discovered that, within each species, there is some regularity in the ratios of the bases: the total amount of adenine is always equal to the amount of thymine (A = T), and the amount of guanine is always equal to the amount of cytosine (G = C; Table 10.1). These findings became known as Chargaff's rules.
Details of the structure of DNA were worked out by a number of scientists. At first, DNA was interpreted as being too regular in structure to carry genetic information but, by the 1940s, DNA from different organisms was shown to vary in its base composition.
DNA As the Source of Genetic Information
While chemists were working out the structure of DNA, biologists were attempting to identify the source of genetic information. Two sets of experiments, one conducted on bacteria and the other on viruses, provided pivotal evidence that DNA, rather than protein, was the genetic material.
Base composition of DNA from different sources and rations of bases
Source of DNA
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