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Dahm R. (2008) Discovering DNA: Friedrich Miescher and the early years of nucleic acid research. Hum Genet 122:565-81

Dahm R. (2005) Friedrich Miescher and the discovery of DNA. Dev Biol 278:274-88.

Das Erbe Friedrich Mieschers, TeleBasel, April 17, 2013

Friedrich Miescher - Discoverer of DNA


Short biography

Johannes Friedrich Miescher was born in 1844 into a distinguished scientific family in Basel, Switzerland.
Friedrich Miescher studied medicine in Basel and Göttingen. After his graduation in 1868, he decided however to pursue physiological chemistry due to a hearing impairment caused by a severe attack of typhoid fever. He therefore complemented his medical training with training in organic chemistry in Felix Hoppe-Seyler's laboratory in Tübingen and in physiology in the laboratory of Carl Ludwig.
Miescher received a chair in 1871 at the University of Basel as professor of physiology. In 1885 he founded Switzerland's first physiological institute at the Vesalianum.
He retired in 1895 and died the same year of tuberculosis in Davos.

Discovery of "nuclein"

During his stay in the laboratory of Felix Hoppe-Seyler at the University of Tübingen in 1868-69, Miescher was the first to isolate and chemically characterize DNA - from nuclei of leukocytes found in pus from bandages. At that time, the consensus was that cells were largely made of proteins. Miescher noted though the presence of something that "cannot belong among any of the protein substances known hitherto". He showed that this substance was derived from the nucleus of the cell alone and therefore named it "nuclein". He then went on to prove that "nuclein" was present in many cells and contained phosphorous in addition to the more usual components of organic molecules - carbon, nitrogen and hydrogen.
Miescher's findings were so revolutionary that Hoppe-Seyler delayed publication to repeat the experiments himself to ensure the accuracy of the data. Miescher was a visionary and already in 1869 he proposed that "nuclein" might be the basis of heredity.

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