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The double helix 50 years on: models, metaphors, and reductionism
  1. R E Ashcroft
  1. Imperial College London, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr R E Ashcroft, Imperial College London, Department of Primary Health Care and General Practice, Reynolds Building, St Dunstan’s, London W6 8RP, UK;

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Bioethics should update its conception of the gene

The 25th of April marks the 50th anniversary of the publication in Nature of the letter by James Watson and Francis Crick announcing their solution to the structure of deoxyribose nucleic acid (DNA).1 By that time, much was known about the role of chromosomes in inheritance, the contribution of DNA to chromosome structure, and the chemistry of DNA.2 The gene concept itself was also well established by then; the principal scientific problem became to specify what genes were in molecular terms and how they functioned in the cell during ordinary function and cell division.

The importance of the solution of the structure of DNA was twofold. First, it gave insight into finding a mechanism for DNA replication, as the authors recognised in this famous sentence:

It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a copying mechanism for the genetic material.3

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