In 1859 Charles Darwin published his epoch-making ‘On the Origin of Species.’ Ideas were already abroad that life evolved, but a mechanism to allow evolution was needed. It was Darwin who
provided the mechanism with his ideas of natural selection. In its simplest form, life evolved to fit its environment. Those that did so the best thrived; those that didn’t died out. Evolution, it seemed, favoured the fittest.
Seven years later, an obscure monk called Gregor Mendel published the results of his work on the heredity principles of the pea plant. Noting that characteristics of the parent were passed on, he had, infact, discovered the science of heredity and genetics. Such a discovery was vitally important, for it not only gave a medium through which evolution could work, but it also identified a possible blueprint of life. However, Mendel’s work was to be ignored until 1900.
In 1909 the gene was coined as a term to describe inherited characteristics by Wilhelm Johannsen. We now know that genes are located on chromosomes that are found in all cells. But it took until 1953, and the work of James Watson and Francis Crick, before we understood the mechanics of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. Strands of DNA exist in the gene as a double helix. Containing all the characteristics of the person or lifeform, when reproduction occurs, one strand of the double helix detaches and carries the information to the new lifeform as a genetic code.
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