During the 1950s, a tremendous explosion of biological
research occurred, and the methods of gene expression were elucidated. The
knowledge generated during this period helped explain how genes function, and
it gave rise to the science of molecular genetics. This science is based on the
activity of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and how this activity brings about the
production of proteins in the cell. Genetic material is packaged into DNA
molecules. DNA molecules relay the inherited information to messenger RNA
(mRNA) which, in turn, codes for proteins. This chain of command is represented
DNA → mRNA → protein
The flow of information from DNA to protein is known as the Central Dogma of molecular biology.
In 1953, two biochemists, James D. Watson and Francis H. C. Crick, proposed a model for the structure of DNA. (In 1962, they shared a Nobel Prize for their work.) The publication of the structure of DNA opened a new realm of molecular genetics. Its structure provided valuable insight into how genes operate and how DNA can reproduce itself during mitosis, thereby passing on hereditary characteristics. Not only did the new research uncover many of the principles of protein synthesis, but it also gave rise to the science of biotechnology and genetic engineering (see Chapter 11).