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Foundations of Science

, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 387–401 | Cite as

Serendipity and the Discovery of DNA

  • Áurea Anguera de Sojo
  • Juan Ares
  • María Aurora Martínez
  • Juan Pazos
  • Santiago Rodríguez
  • José Gabriel Zato
Article

Abstract

This paper presents the manner in which the DNA, the molecule of life, was discovered. Unlike what many people, even biologists, believe, it was Johannes Friedrich Miescher who originally discovered and isolated nuclein, currently known as DNA, in 1869, 75 years before Watson and Crick unveiled its structure. Also, in this paper we show, and above all demonstrate, the serendipity of this major discovery. Like many of his contemporaries, Miescher set out to discover how cells worked by means of studying and analysing their proteins. During this arduous task, he detected an unexpected substance of unpredicted properties. This new substance precipitated when he added acid to the solution and it dissolved again when adding alkali. Unexpectedly and by a mere fluke, Miescher was the first person to obtain a DNA precipitate. The paper then presents the term serendipity and discusses how it has influenced the discovery of other important scientific milestones. Finally, we address the question of whether serendipitous discoveries can be nurtured and what role the computer could play in this process.

Keywords

Computational serendipity DNA Miescher Nuclein Serendipity 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Áurea Anguera de Sojo
    • 1
  • Juan Ares
    • 2
  • María Aurora Martínez
    • 3
  • Juan Pazos
    • 3
  • Santiago Rodríguez
    • 2
  • José Gabriel Zato
    • 1
  1. 1.Technical University of MadridMadridSpain
  2. 2.University of A CoruñaA CoruñaSpain
  3. 3.Madrid Open University (UDIMA)MadridSpain

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