The discovery of hydrogen bonds in DNA and a re-evaluation of the 1948 Creeth two-chain model for its structure

Biochem Soc Trans. 2018 Oct 19;46(5):1171-1182. doi: 10.1042/BST20180158. Epub 2018 Sep 6.

Abstract

We recall the experimental approaches involved in the discovery of hydrogen bonds in deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) made 70 years ago by a team of scientists at University College Nottingham led by J.M. Gulland, and in relation to previous studies. This discovery proved an important step in the elucidation of the correct structure for DNA made by J.D. Watson and F.H.C. Crick, as acknowledged in 'The Double Helix'. At that time of the discovery, however, it was impossible to delineate between inter- and intra-chain hydrogen bonds. We also consider in the light of more recent hydrodynamic theory a tentative model for DNA proposed by Gulland's and D.O. Jordan's PhD student J.M. Creeth in his PhD thesis of 1948, with the correct prediction of two chains with a sugar-phosphate backbone on the exterior and hydrogen-bonded bases between the nucleotide bases of opposite chains in the interior. Our analysis shows that his incorporation of alternating breaks in the two-chain structure was not necessary to explain the viscosity data on scission of hydrogen bonds after titrating to high or low pH. Although Creeth's model is a depiction of DNA structure alone, he could not know whether the hydrogen bonding was intermolecular, although this was subsequently proved correct by others. The mechanisms by which replicative processes occurred were of course unknown at that time, and so, he could not have realised how closely his tentative model resembled steps in some viral replicative mechanisms involving the molecule of life that he was working on.

Keywords: DNA; biological models; hydrodynamics.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Pairing
  • Cattle
  • DNA / chemistry*
  • DNA Damage
  • DNA Replication
  • History, 20th Century
  • Hydrogen
  • Hydrogen Bonding*
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Molecular Biology / history*
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Nucleotides / chemistry
  • Thymus Gland / chemistry
  • Viscosity

Substances

  • Nucleotides
  • Hydrogen
  • DNA