December 14, 2009


Anniversary of creation of “life” in a test tube!

(not!)


On this day in 1967, biochemists at Stanford University held a press conference to announce that they had successfully produced synthetic DNA of a phage called phi X174.

Nobel Laureate Arthur Kornberg and biochemist Mehran Goulian had been working with bacterial viruses (phages), which have shorter DNA strands than bacteria themselves. They experimented with enzymes that string together nucleotides to form DNA strands, and they also needed to find an enzyme that could cause the free ends of the strands of DNA to seal together into a circular form. (Once in a host, the virus's circular DNA turns into the familiar double-helix form.) Several different research teams found the needed enzyme, DNA ligase, and Kornberg and his team finally succeeded in creating the circular viral DNA.

The scientists warned reporters at the press conference that they should NOT say that scientists had “created life inside a test tube,” because, outside a larger system, viral DNA is not alive.

However, President Lyndon B. Johnson was giving a speech that same day, December 14, and as he looked at the carefully-worded Stanford University report, he summed up for his audience, "Some geniuses at Stanford University have created life in the test tube!"


According to the Arthur Kornberg Papers, Kornberg was dismayed the next day when all the newspaper stories about his work began with the President's statement.

If you read a lot about science, you will often find that reporters and the general public— even Presidents!—get new findings wrong. Use more than one source and reliable sources to get the real scoop.

Learn more about DNA
using the interactive DNA Workshop Activity found near the bottom of the screen here.


Make an origami DNA model; printout and instructions can be found here.


Translate your name into a DNA sequence according to the code found here.

Make a beaded DNA bracelet using instructions found here.

Lots of great stuff about DNA can be found here.

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