DNA, the Keeper of Life's Secrets, Starts to Talk
DNA, penjaga rahasia kehidupan, mulai dibicarakan
Fifty years ago, on Saturday, Feb. 28, 1953, two young scientists walked into the Eagle, adingy pub in Cambridge, England, and announced to the lunchtime crowd that they haddiscovered the secret of life.By divining the chemical structure of DNA, the archive of life, James D. Watson andFrancis Crick had seen how the molecule could encode information in the copious quantitiesnecessary to program a living cell.Years later Dr. Crick's wife, Odile, told him she had not believed him, he has written. "Youwere always coming home and saying things like that, so naturally I thought nothing of it," shesaid.But on that occasion the claim was true, and it set in motion a revolution that has continuedto unfold to this day, much of it guided by the two original discoverers.Research is a slow process, often with years between each eureka, and even today the DNArevolution remains largely behind laboratory doors, in the form of biologists' ever intensifyingunderstanding of the mechanisms of life. But a few powerful inventions ² forensic DNA, a newwave of DNA-based drugs ² have already had considerable effect, and many researchers believe they are just a foretaste.They expect new medical treatments and diagnostic tests, based on a thoroughunderstanding of DNA, for cancer, heart disease and other long intractable maladies. Yet likeany powerful technology, DNA will doubtless bring vexing choices: whether to modify thehuman genome with inheritable genes that will eliminate disease and enhance desired qualities,for one.And there are outright dangers, like the possibility that DNA techniques will be used tomake novel biological weapons.The 50th anniversary of the discovery of DNA's double helix may be more than just a roundnumber. It comes while both its founders are still alive and active: Dr. Crick published an articleon the nature of consciousness just this month.The human genome, obtained in a very rough draft in 2001, is becoming more polished. New technologies have been invented for interpreting the genome's enigmatic archive. Biologicallaboratories are engaged in a thousandfold scale-up, from studying one gene at a time toexamining whole genomes. And DNA, after a long gestation, is in the throes of passing from a pure science to an applied one.After figuring out the structure of DNA, Dr. Crick and Dr. Watson realized that the sequenceof units in the DNA must carry the code in some way for the structure of the proteins that are theworking parts of a cell. But they did not foresee that the entire genomes would one day bedecoded.