Before Watson and Crick in 1953 Came Friedrich Miescher in 1869

Genetics. 2020 Jun;215(2):291-296. doi: 10.1534/genetics.120.303195.


In 1869, the young Swiss biochemist Friedrich Miescher discovered the molecule we now refer to as DNA, developing techniques for its extraction. In this paper we explain why his name is all but forgotten, and his role in the history of genetics is mostly overlooked. We focus on the role of national rivalries and disciplinary turf wars in shaping historical memory, and on how the story we tell shapes our understanding of the science. We highlight that Miescher could just as correctly be portrayed as the person who understood the chemical nature of chromatin (before the term existed), and the first to suggest how stereochemistry might serve as the basis for the transmission of hereditary variation.