The History of DNA

The History of DNA

By Contributing LunaDNA Writer. Last edited by LunaPBC on September 2019


The human hereditary material known as deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, is a long molecule containing the information organisms need to both develop and reproduce. DNA is found in every cell in the body, and is passed down from parent to child.

Although the discovery of DNA occurred in 1869 by Swiss-born biochemist Fredrich Miescher, it took more than 80 years for its importance to be fully realized. And even today, more than 150 years after it was first discovered, exciting research and technology continue to offer more insight and a better answer to the question: why is DNA important?  Learn more here about DNA, including:

What is DNA?

DNA is self-replicating material that’s in every living organism. In simplest terms, it is a carrier of all genetic information. It contains the instructions needed for organisms to develop, grow, survive, and reproduce. It’s one long molecule that contains our genetic “code,” or recipe. This recipe is the starting point for our development, but DNA’s interaction with outside influences such as our lifestyle, environment, and nutrition ultimately form the human being.

While most DNA is found in the nucleus of a cell, a small amount can also be found in the mitochondria, which generates energy so cells can function properly. Perhaps the most fascinating part of the process is the fact that nearly every cell in your body has the same DNA.

What is DNA Made of?

DNA is made up of molecules known as nucleotides. Each nucleotide contains a sugar and phosphate group as well as nitrogen bases. These nitrogen bases are further broken down into four types, including:

  • Adenine (A)
  • Cytosine (C)
  • Guanine (G)
  • Thymine (T)

DNA’s structure is a double-stranded helix, and it resembles the look of a twisted ladder. The sugar and phosphates are nucleotide strands that form the long sides. The nitrogen bases are the rungs. Every rung is actually two types of nitrogen bases that pair together to form a complete rung and hold the long strands of nucleotides together. Remember, there are four types of nitrogen bases, and they pair together specifically – adenine pairs with thymine, and guanine with cytosine.

Human DNA is unique in that it is made up of nearly 3 billion base pairs, and about 99 percent of them are the same in every human. However, it’s the sequence of these bases that determines what information is available to both build and maintain any organism.

Think of DNA like individual letters of the alphabet — letters combine with one another in a specific order and form to make up words, sentences, and stories. The same idea is true for DNA — how the nitrogen bases are ordered in DNA sequences forms the genes, which tell your cells how to make proteins. Ribonucleic acid (RNA), another type of nucleic acid, is formed during the process of transcription (when DNA is replicated). RNA’s function is to translate genetic information from DNA to proteins as it is read by a ribosome.

How Does DNA Work?

DNA is essentially a recipe for any living organism. It contains vital information that’s passed down from one generation to the next. DNA molecules within the nucleus of a cell wind tightly to form chromosomes, which help keep DNA secure and in place and store important information in the form of genes to determine an organism’s genetic information.

DNA works by copying itself into that single-stranded molecule called RNA. If DNA is the blueprint, you can think of RNA as the translator of instructions written in the blueprint.  During this process, DNA unwinds itself so it can be replicated. RNA is similar to DNA, but it does contain some significant molecular differences that set it apart. RNA acts as a messenger, carrying vital genetic information in a cell from DNA through ribosomes to create proteins, which then form all living things.

How Was DNA Discovered?

DNA was discovered in 1869 by Swiss researcher Friedrich Miescher, who was originally trying to study the composition of lymphoid cells (white blood cells). Instead, he isolated a new molecule he called nuclein (DNA with associated proteins) from a cell nucleus. While Miescher was the first to define DNA as a distinct molecule, several other researchers and scientists have contributed to our relative understanding of DNA as we know it today. And it wasn’t until the early 1940s that DNA’s role in genetic inheritance was even begun to be researched and understood.

Who Discovered DNA?

The full answer to the question who discovered DNA is complex, because in truth, many people have contributed to what we know about it. DNA was first discovered by Friedrich Miescher, but researchers and scientists continue to expound on his work to this day, as we are still learning more about its mysteries. As it turned out, Miescher’s discovery was just the beginning.

Credit for who first identified DNA is often mistakenly given to James Watson and Francis Crick, who actually just furthered Miescher’s discovery with their own groundbreaking research nearly 100 years later. Watson and Crick contributed largely to our understanding of DNA in terms of genetic inheritance, but much like Miescher, long before their work, others also made great advancements in and contributions to the field.

  • 1866 — Before the many significant discoveries and findings, Gregor Mendel, who is known as the “Father of Genetics,” was actually the first to suggest that characteristics are passed down from generation to generation. Mendel coined the terms we all know today as recessive and dominant.
  • 1869 — Friedrich Miescher identified the “nuclein” by isolating a molecule from a cell nucleus that would later become known as DNA.
  • 1881 — Nobel Prize winner and German biochemist Albrecht Kossel, who is credited with naming DNA, identified nuclein as a nucleic acid. He also isolated those five nitrogen bases that are now considered to be the basic building blocks of DNA and RNA: adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T) (which is replaced by uracil (U) in RNA).
  • 1882 — Shortly after Kossel’s findings, Walther Flemming devoted research and time to cytology, which is the study of chromosomes. He discovered mitosis in 1882 when he was the first biologist to execute a wholly systematic study of the division of chromosomes. His observations that chromosomes double is significant to the later-discovered theory of inheritance.
  • Early 1900s — Theodor Boveri and Walter Sutton were independently working on what’s now known as the Boveri-Sutton chromosome theory, or the chromosomal theory of inheritance. Their findings are fundamental in our understanding of how chromosomes carry genetic material and pass it down from one generation to the next.
  • 1902 — Mendel’s theories were finally associated with a human disease by Sir Archibald Edward Garrod, who published the first findings from a study on recessive inheritance in human beings in 1902. Garrod opened the door for our understanding of genetic disorders resulting from errors in chemical pathways in the body.
  • 1944 — Oswald Avery first outlined DNA as the transforming principle, which essentially means that it’s DNA, not proteins, that transform cell properties .
  • 1944-1950 — Erwin Chargaff discovered that DNA is responsible for heredity and that it varies between species. His discoveries, known as Chargaff’s Rules, proved that guanine and cytosine units, as well as adenine and thymine units, were the same in double-stranded DNA, and he also discovered that DNA varies among species.
  • Late 1940s — Barbara McClintock discovered the mobility of genes, ultimately challenging virtually everything that was once thought to be. Her discovery of the “jumping gene,” or the idea that genes can move on a chromosome, earned her the Nobel Prize in Physiology.
  • 1951 — Roslind Franklin’s work in X-ray crystallography began when she started taking X-ray diffraction photographs of DNA. Her images showed the helical form, which was confirmed by Watson and Crick nearly two years later. Her findings were only acknowledged posthumously.
  • 1953 — Watson and Crick published on DNA’s double helix structure that twists to form the ladder-like structure we think of when we picture DNA.

When Was DNA Discovered?

What we know about DNA today can be largely credited to James Watson and Francis Crick, who discovered the structure of DNA in 1953. Despite there being many important and contributing discoveries both before and after their work, this is the year they discovered DNA’s double helix, or spiraling, intertwined structure, which is fundamental to our current understanding of DNA as a whole.

The Future of DNA

The future of DNA has great potential. As researchers and scientists continue to advance what we know about the complexities of DNA and the insights it codes for, we can imagine a world with less and better-managed disease, longer life spans, and a personalized view of medicine that’s specifically applicable to individuals rather than the population as a whole.

DNA insights are already enabling the diagnosis and treatment of genetic diseases. Science is also hopeful that medicine will advance to be able to leverage the power of our own cells to fight disease.  For example, gene therapy is designed to introduce genetic material into cells to compensate for abnormal genes or to make a therapeutically beneficial protein.

Researchers also continue to use DNA sequencing technology to learn more about everything from combating infectious disease outbreaks to improving nutritional security.

Ultimately, DNA research will accelerate breaking the mold of the one-size-fits-all approach to medicine. Every new discovery in our understanding of DNA lends to further advancement in the idea of precision medicine, a relatively new way doctors are approaching healthcare through the use of genetic and molecular information to guide their approach to medicine. With precision or personalized medicine, interventions take into consideration the unique biology of the patient and are tailored individually to each patient, rather than being based on the predicted response for all patients. Using genetics and a holistic view of individual genetics, lifestyle, and environment on a case-by-case basis, doctors are better able to not only predict accurate prevention strategies, but also suggest more effective treatment options.

We’ve come leaps and bounds from where we were in terms of our understanding of DNA 150 years ago. But still, there is much to learn. And with the potential that a deeper understanding of DNA will improve human health and quality of life across our world, no doubt, the research will continue. A full understanding of DNA of and between all living things could one day contribute to solving problems like world hunger, disease prevention, and fighting climate change. The potential truly is unlimited, and to say the least, extremely exciting.

How To Do More With Your DNA

Until recently, individuals were sources of samples in the traditional research model. Today, the gap between research and individual is closing and the community is coming together to contribute health data to support research at scale, advance science, and accelerate medical discoveries at LunaDNATM.

There are so many treatments and cures to diseases that are close to being discovered, and your unique DNA data can help revolutionize the future of medicine.

Luna is bringing together individuals, communities, and researchers to better understand life. The more we come together to contribute health data for the greater good, the quicker and more efficient research will scale, and improve the quality of life for us all.  

Directly drive health discovery by joining the Tell Us About You study. 


About Luna

Luna’s suite of tools and services connects communities with researchers to accelerate health discoveries. With participation from more than 180 countries and communities advancing causes including disease-specific, public health, environmental, and emerging interests, Luna empowers these collectives to gather a wide range of data — health records, lived experience, disease history, genomics, and more – for research.

Luna gives academia and industry everything they need from engagement with study participants to data analysis across multiple modalities using a common data model. The platform is compliant with clinical regulatory requirements and international consumer data privacy laws.

By providing privacy-protected individuals a way to continually engage, Luna transforms the traditional patient-disconnected database into a dynamic, longitudinal discovery environment where researchers, industry, and community leaders can leverage a range of tools to surface insights and trends, study disease natural history and biomarkers, and enroll in clinical studies and trials.


Evolution Hypothesis

Outpaced Evolution: A New Hypothesis


For thousands of years, humans have evolved to survive and thrive in environments fraught with a multitude of different challenges, creating an environment of continuous stress.

From the hunting and gathering struggle for food on a daily basis, to a constant vigil required to protect ourselves from predators, such stressors have enabled humans to become skilled in survival and prepared to address challenges.

In the developed world today, however, food is no longer scarce and predators no longer require us to be alert and ready for flight or fight. We have broken free of the majority of these natural challenges in what is the blink of an eye on the evolutionary timescale. Consequently, the evolutionary rate of adoption is not able to keep up with the rapid change of human condition.

A New Hypothesis

I predict that if we don’t implement challenges in our life on a daily basis, and purposefully create healthy stress across all of our systems, then the results for most of us will be negative outcomes to our health and wellbeing in our later years.

What Are We Fighting For?

Muscular strength and physical endurance were once necessary for chasing down prey for food and for defense against physical threats.  We taxed our bodies physically on a daily basis, though it was not called exercise. Today, lack of physical activity over our adult lives severely impacts our muscle health, flexibility, bone density, balance, and joint/ligament health. In combination with an abundance of high calorie foods, it also can lead to diabetes, obesity, and other chronic problems.

Our ancestors did not have the time or luxury to worry about or contemplate meaning and purpose in life. Every morning they arose to address the multitude of challenges thrown at them, in their efforts to survive. We no longer need to rise each morning and fight for survival, removing what was a key reason for being, our “raison d’etre”.

Can we survive today in a state where nothing drives us, inspires us, or challenges us?”

In the long term it’s impossible to emotionally thrive in this spiritual and intellectual vacuum unless we find our own raisons d’etre. At some point one might lose the desire to get up in the morning and face the day.

Microbiome Evolution

Not surprisingly, even our microbiomes evolved in support of our survival, in what were more challenging times. We developed a symbiotic balance with many important microbes within our microbiome communities. The balance may be at risk for many of us depending on our nutritional choices. For example, food once came from natural sources and we had daily exposure to a rich environment of diverse microbes. This provided access to a rich set of microbes to colonize different areas of our body. Healthy microbes helped us break down hard to digest foods such as fiber from plants and raw meat. These microbes became valuable partners in maintaining digestive and physical health. Some provided a first defense against disease and pathogens.

Today, we have the choice of eating processed foods that may contain no microbes, and that are simple to digest, such as simple sugar, processed grains, and processed meats. The lack of microbes impacts the diversity of our gut microbiome and possibly, more impactfully, may no longer be providing fuel for the the healthy fiber digesting microbes that also have antibiotic resistant properties.

Depleting these microbes leaves space for other microbes to colonize our gut. Microbes that thrive on processed food and sugar, microbes that may not be healthy or even pathogenic, impacting our microbiome balance. This imbalance may contribute to disorders such as leaky gut, SIBO, Crohn’s and Colitis, and simple food allergies.

The Gut Brain Connection

New research points to the effect of our microbiome on mental health, due to the gut brain connection, and effectiveness of cancer immunotherapy treatments. The science in this area is new. Due in large part to the low cost of acquiring genomic data, it is now possible to fund large scale discovery studies on the link between our health and our microbiome. Over time, the links between our microbiome and our health will become much clearer, as will the actions we can take. For now, it is clear that a link exists.

We are fortunate to live in a world where historic challenges no longer plague us. As change is outpacing evolution, it is incumbent on us to modify our lifestyle in order to thrive in this new world. Don’t shy away from challenges in life… embrace them. Don’t be tempted to always take the easy path whether it be sitting all day, eating fast food, or avoiding difficult intellectual and emotional situations. Lead a balanced life of activity, continuous learning, leisure time, and time with family and friends. Eat a balanced meal of fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed foods. And don’t shy away from life’s challenges, for they’re there to help us live long and prosper.


About Luna

Luna’s suite of tools and services connects communities with researchers to accelerate health discoveries. With participation from more than 180 countries and communities advancing causes including disease-specific, public health, environmental, and emerging interests, Luna empowers these collectives to gather a wide range of data — health records, lived experience, disease history, genomics, and more – for research.

Luna gives academia and industry everything they need from engagement with study participants to data analysis across multiple modalities using a common data model. The platform is compliant with clinical regulatory requirements and international consumer data privacy laws.

By providing privacy-protected individuals a way to continually engage, Luna transforms the traditional patient-disconnected database into a dynamic, longitudinal discovery environment where researchers, industry, and community leaders can leverage a range of tools to surface insights and trends, study disease natural history and biomarkers, and enroll in clinical studies and trials.


Bob Kain

Bob Kain

Executive Chairman of the Board + CO-FOUNDER

Bob was Illumina’s Chief Engineering Officer and, during his 15-year tenure, helped grow the Company from a 30-person startup to a global genomics leader of 3,000 employees at $1.5 billion in revenue.


LunaDNA is Approved by the SEC

LunaDNA Is Approved By The SEC to Offer Ownership Shares to Individuals for Sharing Data


SOLANA BEACH, Calif., Dec. 5, 2018  — LunaDNA LLC announced today that its securities offering has been qualified and its platform is now open to U.S. residents. LunaDNA is the first community-owned health and DNA data platform to offer ownership shares for contributing personal health information.

The Final Offering Circular for the offering is available at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) website here. U.S. residents can sign up at LunaDNA.com to contribute data and obtain shares.

Founded by the Public Benefit Corporation LunaPBC, Inc., LunaDNA’s platform is rooted in putting individuals at the center of health research, with unique features for data privacy, voluntary inclusion, transparency, and sharing in the value created from use of their data. The monetary value of LunaDNA share ownership will be expressed through dividends consistent with an individual’s ownership percentage. Holders of shares can increase their holdings over time by contributing more data, and intrinsic value in the database is created as research advances and medical discoveries are accelerated.

This people-first model is designed to address previous industry research challenges such as data silos limitation, data usage non-transparency, and value imbalance. LunaDNA has created a global community for data sharing where community is the core tenet. Members control their inclusion in the database by always having the option to remove consent and delete their data from the platform.

Nothing is more personal than our health and DNA data. LunaDNA, in a precedent-setting move, is enabling individuals to own shares in the company that monetizes their data. This new data paradigm enables a community to control their continued inclusion, learn about studies undertaken with the database, celebrate discoveries, and participate in the financial rewards that come from commercial partnerships.”

Bob Kain, CEO + Co-founder, LunaPBC

Researchers from nonprofits, for-profits, disease organizations, and research communities will be able to query the LunaDNA platform for research studies. Members’ de-identified and aggregated health data provided in response to those queries will help power research at the scope and scale needed for medical breakthroughs. While maintaining anonymity and only with consent, LunaDNA members may further opt-in to receive communications from researchers interested in including them in a research study or trial.

Medical breakthroughs and improving quality of life depend on comprehensive, continuous, real-world health data organized to support medical discovery. People are the best curators of their health data, and we need them as partners in research,” said Dawn Barry, president and co-founder, LunaPBC. “This model brings together social responsibility with technology for real-world, frictionless, passive information capture. We can imagine research as a continuous relationship versus a moment in time transaction.”

Beginning today, you can receive shares for contributing eligible data types, including DNA data files from services such as 23andMe, AncestryDNA, and MyHeritage, on the LunaDNA platform.

GET MORE INFO OR VIEW THE FINAL OFFERING CIRCULAR


About LunaDNA
LunaDNA is the first health and DNA data platform owned by its community of personal health information donors. LunaDNA empowers individuals to share their health data for medical research and the greater good of the community. As community owners in the LunaDNA platform, holders of shares participate in the value created from health discovers and medical breakthroughs.

LunaDNA was created by the privately-owned Public Benefit Corporation LunaPBC, founded in 2017 and headquartered in Solana Beach, California. The LunaPBC team, investors, and advisors are renowned in the patient-advocacy, health, and science fields, including several former chief executives of Illumina, industry academics, and financial executives.

LunaDNA does not provide genetic testing services, as it focuses on aggregating health information that individuals already own to accelerate health research. LunaDNA does not endorse any specific genetic testing company.


Forward Looking Statements
The matters contained in the discussion above may be considered to be “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Those statements include statements regarding the intent, belief or current expectations or anticipations of LunaDNA and LunaPBC and members of LunaPBC’s management team. Factors currently known to management that could cause actual results to differ materially from those in forward-looking statements include the following: LunaDNA’s ability to attract and retain members; breaches of network security or the misappropriation or misuse of personal and health data; dependence on LunaPBC for funding; market demand for analysis of genomic information and LunaDNA’s ability to recruit researchers to query the database; the need to comply with complex and evolving U.S. and foreign laws and regulations; dependence on third parties to generate data contributed by members; competition; dependence on LunaPBC as manager of LunaDNA, including dependence of key personnel of LunaPBC; the ability of LunaPBC to unilaterally change LunaDNA’s operating agreement and management services agreement; potential for disruption from network outages; failure to maintain the integrity of systems and infrastructure; liabilities as a result of privacy regulations; failure by LunaPBC to adequately protect intellectual property rights or allegations of infringement of intellectual property rights; the general non-transferability of shares and the lack of a trading market for the shares; uncertainty in the ability of LunaDNA to earn sufficient revenue, after expenses, to have sufficient funds to pay dividends to holders of shares; the discretion of LunaPBC as to the declaration of dividends on the shares; lack of voting rights and other typical shareholder rights; potential adverse effects of LunaPBC’s conflicts of interest; and the limited recourse of LunaDNA share holders against LunaPBC for its actions as manager. These and additional factors to be considered are set forth under “Risk Factors” in LunaDNA’s Final Offering Circular and in its other filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. LunaDNA undertakes no obligation to update or revise forward-looking statements to reflect changed assumptions, the occurrence of unanticipated events or changes to future operating results or expectations, except as otherwise required by law.


Genetic Alliance and LunaPBC Partner

Genetic Alliance and LunaPBC Partner to Support Personal Health and Accelerate Medical Breakthroughs


SOLANA BEACH, Calif., Jan. 22, 2019 — LunaPBC, founder of LunaDNA, the first community-owned genomic and health data platform, announced today its partnership with Genetic Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to providing ordinary people with powerful tools to transform research. Over the course of 2019, the organizations will merge Genetic Alliance’s Platform for Engaging Everyone Responsibly engagement platform with LunaDNA to provide individuals and communities with more resources to support health management while maximizing research opportunities.

Genetic Alliance Logo

The partnership enables LunaPBC and Genetic Alliance to unite their shared mission and technologies to create seamless solutions to support individuals, disease foundations, and patient advocacy organizations while also powering disease research at scale. Shared values across both organizations will ensure the ongoing focus of honoring a person’s preferences and rights for data transparency, privacy, and control while accelerating science and creating shared value.

In December 2018, LunaDNA received precedent-setting approval from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to recognize an individual’s health data as currency with which to acquire shares of ownership in the company. Researchers from nonprofits, for-profits, disease organizations, and research communities can request access to the LunaDNA platform to conduct research studies. LunaDNA members’ de-identified, aggregated, and encrypted health data helps power research at the scope and scale needed for medical breakthroughs.

The joining of Genetic Alliance’s patient outreach and engagement with LunaDNA’s person-centered data management expertise takes advantage of both organizations’ exceptional strengths. This will accelerate the research opportunities afforded by rich, longitudinal data, and a cohort of research-aware participants and has the potential to change the clinical research paradigm and how participants are connected to clinical trials,” said Michelle Penny, co-chair of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicines Roundtable on Genomics and Precision Health.

Genetic Alliance’s Platform for Engaging Everyone Responsibly (PEER) is an award-winning technology solution for collecting health data directly from individuals. The platform gives individuals complete control over how their data is shared for research. Organizations and communities interested in using PEER to collect individual health data for a specific purpose do so by creating customized registries. PEER participants will join the LunaDNA community and be invited to receive ownership shares in LunaDNA when contributing their personal health information. Dividends from shares may be donated to charitable organizations of the individual’s choosing. Currently, PEER is used by 45 disease communities representing more than 50,000 individual participants. The Genetic Alliance network includes more than 1,200 disease-specific advocacy organizations, as well as thousands of universities, private companies, government agencies, and public policy organization. In 2015, PEER was honored by the White House as one of nine leading platforms in the advancement of precision medicine.

Most research endeavors leave out the most critical stakeholder: people. While health data is a critical component to the advancement of new treatments, research, and medical technology, data alone will not lead to solutions that alleviate suffering. The biomedical research enterprise tries to cut corners and sever people’s connection to their data, or keep it opaque how individual health data is used and who gains access to the data individuals provide. We are excited to partner with LunaPBC because, like us, they believe individuals need and deserve opportunities to be active participants in their own health and research opportunities. The day of de-identified data is over – we need to understand what happens over time, we need people to be partners in their own research to care cycle. Together, we’re providing a people-centric model that empowers the individual to offer access to their health data and also receive support. We are building secure and transparent communities and connections geared towards supporting the individual that will accelerate medical breakthroughs,” said Sharon Terry, president and CEO, Genetic Alliance.

“By putting people truly at the center of the model versus just leveraging them as sources of specimens, we engage individuals as true partners in creating a dynamic, real world asset for research. Rather than having researchers wait for sufficient data to pose questions, the community-owned data is poised to address their novel hypotheses. The opportunity to reshape research and be inclusive is good for both people and discovery,” said Dawn Barry, president and co-founder, LunaPBC.


About Genetic Alliance
Genetic Alliance, a non-profit organization founded in 1986, is a leader in deploying high tech and high touch programs for individuals, families and communities to transform health systems by being responsive to the real needs of people in their quest for health. The alliance is comprised of 10,000 organizations, 1,200 of which are disease and patient advocacy foundations and include community health programs, employee wellness programs, local nonprofits, religious institutions, and community-specific programs to grow and expand their reach and mission.

About LunaDNA
LunaDNA is the first health and genomic data platform owned by its community of personal health information donors. LunaDNA empowers individuals to share their health data for medical research and the greater good of the community. As community owners in the LunaDNA platform, members share in the value created from health discoveries and medical breakthroughs.

LunaDNA was created by the privately-owned Public Benefit Corporation, LunaPBC, founded in 2017 and headquartered in Solana Beach, California. The LunaPBC team, investors, and advisors are renowned in the patient-advocacy, health, and science fields, including several former chief executives of Illumina, industry academics, and financial executives.