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Special Issue of Science Will Celebrate
Fifty Years Since Discovery of DNA
On April 25, 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick published their groundbreaking paper proposing the structure of DNA. Fifty years later, knowledge of the structure and behavior of DNA has advanced understanding across the frontiers of medicine from genetic diseases to infectious diseases, the immune response, cancer, and aging.
To celebrate this 50th anniversary, the American Association for the Advancement of Science will look at both what we have learned over the past 50 years and where molecular biology may take us in the future. A special issue of Science will appear on April 11, and AAAS is cosponsoring several commemorative events in Cambridge, England.
In May, AAAS will convene a public dialog on the highly controversial topic of genetic influences on human characteristics such as mental health, criminality, free will, intelligence, and addiction.
"The influence of genes on human behavior is just one of the many areas that is both illuminated and made more complex by the knowledge we have gained in the genetic revolution," says Al Teich, director of science and policy programs at AAAS. "It is essential that, as the science progresses, we explore the ethical, social, legal, and policy implications of these remarkable developments, and that we do so not just within the science community, but by involving the full range of affected people and groups."
The April 11 issue of Science will explore how the double helix fundamentally changed not only the concept of the gene but also the scope and direction of biological research.
Celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Watson and Crick's discovery will be centered in Cambridge, England, where the pair worked, and AAAS is cosponsoring several key events. A plaque will be unveiled at The Eagle pub in Cambridge, a regular watering hole for Crick and Watson where they announced that they had found the secret of life. The Cambridge Blue Plaque will carry the Cambridge crest and is part of the city's effort to celebrate its octocentenary by commemorating its famous people and events. On April 25, some 700 internationally renowned scientists will gather at a one-day celebratory conference to discuss the enormous progress that has been made during the last 50 years and probe the possibilities for the next 50 years.
Turning to the future of genetic research, Science Editor-in-Chief Donald Kennedy says, "DNA is a player in a great social debate: How much do our genes tell us about who we are and how we behave, and how much is a result of culture. Thoughtful people are beginning to integrate the idea that our natures are the product of a potent combination of genes and environment. Sorting out those two roles is one of the great tasks we face as human beings."
To advance that goal, AAAS is cosponsoring "Can We Talk? A Public Conversation About Behavioral Genetics and Society" May 2-3 in Washington, D.C. The event will be an open meeting to engage researchers, patient advocates, journalists, and the public in discussions about this thought-provoking topic. Roundtable sessions and audience-response technology will encourage two-way conversation.
The free conference is cosponsored by AAAS and the Hastings Center, a leading bioethics think tank, with funding from the National Institutes of Health. To register for "Can We Talk? A Public Conversation About Behavioral Genetics and Society," click here.
"Scientists everywhere are excited about the progress we've made since the structure of DNA was described 50 years ago," reflects AAAS Board Chairman Floyd Bloom. "Yet I have every confidence that we've only begun to taste the consequences of that momentous discovery."
7 April 2003