DNA, RNA, Chromosomes, and Genes

History of Nucleic Acids

What term was originally used for DNA?

DNA was originally called nuclein because it was first isolated from the nuclei of cells. In the 1860s, Swiss biochemist Friedrich Miescher (1844–1895), while working in Germany at the University of Tübingen lab of German biochemist and molecular biologist Felix Hoppe-Seyler (1825–1895), was given the task of researching the composition of white blood cells. Washing off the pus from used bandages he obtained from a nearby hospital, he studied the white blood cells by isolating a new molecule from the cell nucleus (white blood cells have very large nuclei). He called the substance nuclein (which we now call DNA). The substance was rich in nitrogen and phosphorus and also contained carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. From there, Hoppe-Seyler checked and verified the important work of his student Miescher.


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