For the past several years, our family has enjoyed celebrating unusual academic holidays. We have a special tea party for Winnie the Pooh day on January 20th and eat pie on Pi Day on March 14th. This year, we’ll be adding a special celebration for DNA Day (April 25th).
What is DNA Day?
Scientists have been observing DNA Day since 2003, the 50th anniversary of Watson and Crick’s article about the double helix. 2003 was also the year the Human Genome Project was completed after 13 years of research by international scientists.
Growing up, I learned about Crick and Watson in school, but I don’t recall ever learning about the other scientists involved in their discovery.
It was one of my children who told me about Rosalind Franklin, a British chemist and X-ray crystallographer who first photographed DNA. Her photograph, now known as Photo 51, was shared without her knowledge by a co-worker who knew Watson and Crick.
With the help of Franklin’s photo, Crick and Watson were able to put together a model of DNA. Along with Maurice Wilkins (Franklin’s co-worker who shared her photo without permission), Watson and Crick won the Nobel Prize in 1962. Rosalind Franklin, who died of cancer in 1958, did not. Her role in the discovery of DNA could have been completely erased, if not for other scientists and biographers telling her story.
This year, for DNA Day, we are excited to learn more about Franklin’s short life. (She died of cancer at the age of 37.) Many books about DNA now include her contributions, and a few biographies have been written about her as well.
7 Ways to Observe DNA Day
- Check your library for books and documentaries about Watson, Crick, and Franklin. Spend the morning learning about their lives and research.
- Examine Photo 51, and talk about how ground-breaking it truly was. X-raying a molecule was cutting-edge technology in the 1950s! Without the photo, Crick and Watson would not have been able to complete their model or win the Nobel Prize.
- Learn more about the chemicals found in DNA: Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine, and Guanine. Build a simple model of the double helix using paper or candy.
- Conduct a simple kitchen experiment to extract DNA from strawberries.
- Assemble a timeline of DNA research, including Gregor Mendel’s work with peas in the late 1800s. How has genetic science developed in the past 200 years?
- Coordinate a survey of friends and family members to determine how common certain genetic traits (like attached earlobes or dimples) are in your community. Study dominant and recessive genes and make Punnett squares for eye color, hair color, or another family trait.
- Discuss the impacts of genetic science on modern society. How does DNA research help with solving crimes and managing diseases? What do your teens and tweens think about the ethics of genetic research moving forward?
The American Society of Human Genetics also holds an essay contest each year with a prize of $1,000. If your high school student is interested in studying genetics, bookmark this site for next year.
Can you think of other ways to celebrate DNA Day? Share in the comments below!