The Top Ten Most Important Scientists in Genetics

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Gregor Mendel – the Austrian monk and his love of garden peas created a seismic shift in biological thinking when he came up with the laws of inheritance.

Francis Crick and James Watson – joint entrants for their landmark 1953 paper on the structure of DNA. They cracked the secret of life when they worked out the double helix structure. They were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1962.

Erwin Chargaff - his work laid the foundations for Crick and Watson’s discoveries. By studying various organisms he observed that the ratio of the nucleic acid bases adenine to thymine was roughly equal, and that the ratio of cytosine to guanine was also roughly equal.

Oswald Avery - certainly an unsung hero in the history of genetics - it was his work in 1944 that concluded that DNA (the so-called “transforming principle”) transmitted the hereditary information.

Alec Jeffreys - was the scientist who invented DNA fingerprinting; a technology that has many applications such as solving crimes, paternity testing, and resolving immigration disputes. It was first used in the courtroom in 1986.

Rosalind Franklin – sometimes referred to as the ‘dark lady of DNA.’ Her work on the X-ray diffraction images of DNA was vital to helping Crick and Watson come up with their hypothesis on the structure of DNA. Her contribution went largely unrecognised during her lifetime, and she was not awarded the Nobel Prize that Crick and Watson shared with Maurice Wilkins because she had died in 1958. The award is not given posthumously.

Herb Boyer - co-founder of the biotech giant Genentech Inc, and a pioneer in the field of recombinant DNA technology. He and Stanley Norman Cohen created the world’s first genetically engineered organism.

Frederick Miescher - the man who discovered DNA. He discovered it in 1869 whilst studying white blood cells from pus-soaked bandages. He called the genetic material ’nuclein’ because it had come from the nucleus. He did not know that it was the hereditary material.

Ian Wilmut - lead researcher of the team that gave the world Dolly the Sheep.

James Thomson - distinguished developmental biologist, a pioneer in the field of stem cell research. His team was the first team to isolate and grow human embryonic stem cells in the lab.

Further Reading

Top Ten Moments in the History of Genetics