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Happy Double DNA Day

It's DNA Day, and as NIH Director Francis Collins writes in a blog post, it's a "double anniversary."

Sixty years ago, on April 25, 1953, Francis Crick and James Watson published their paper in Nature describing the structure of DNA, writing that their model has "two helical chains each coiled round the same axis" and "the novel feature of the structure is the manner in which the two chains are held together by the purine and pyrimidine bases. The planes of the bases are perpendicular to the fibre axis." That same issue of Nature included papers from Maurice Wilkins as well as from Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling, Franklin's student.

Crick, Watson, and Wilkins went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962; Franklin died of ovarian cancer in 1958. Recently released letters, LiveScience reports, indicate that the scientists who worked on the DNA structure were first nominated for the prize in 1960, but that many of the nomination letters did not mention Wilkins; none mentioned Franklin, though the award is not given posthumously. Crick, LiveScience says, wrote to Jacques Monod saying that Wilkins should be included; Monod, it turns out, sent his nomination letter to the chemistry prize committee. Experts speculate that the two committees shared nomination letters, LiveScience adds.

Also on April 25, but 10 years ago in 2003, researchers announced completion of the Human Genome Project's goals. In the intervening years, Collins writes that about 20,500 genes have been uncovered and about 54 million genetic variations have been noted. "I am a physician; my dream is to see these advances in understanding the genome translated into better methods of prevention, treatment, and cure of disease," he writes, later adding, "As we celebrate this special day, let's resolve to use all means possible to bring the promise of the genomic revolution to those billions of people in the world who are still waiting and hoping for its benefits to reach them."

If you are looking for a last-minute way to celebrate, the University of Hull's Mark Lorch gives directions in the Guardian on how to make a model of DNA from licorice and gummy candy as well as on how to extract DNA from kiwifruit.