‘Discovery of the DNA: impact on health, water quality, nutrition and food security’, was the theme of a hybrid seminar organized by the Academy of Sciences of Lisbon, Portugal, held on March 15, 2023.
Opening Words by Maria Salomé Soares Pais (ULisboa, ACL)
On behalf of Mr. President of the Academy of Sciences of Lisbon and as President of the Institute of High Studies of this Academy, I welcome you to Cumpriment Greetings to all participants. I greet and say a very special word of thanks to our speakers who agreed to participate in this seminar commemorating the international year of basic sciences for the development and sustainability.
The United Nations 2030 agenda constitutes a global challenge for sustainable development, believing that this is the way to Transform our World. The sustainable development goals (SDGs), are of crucial importance for the humanity and the planet. As far as humanity is concerned, it is important to eradicate hunger and poverty so that every human being can have a dignified life, be able to use their abilities in equality and live in a healthy environment.
As for the Planet, it is urgent to protect it from degradation resulting from unsustainable consumption and production or from extreme phenomena due to climate change. If it is not the case, the needs of present and future generations are compromised. Every human being has the right to a prosperous and full life from the economic, social and technological point of view. A prosperous, inclusive, enlightened society is a society capable of building the present and the future and living in peace.
Without peace there is no development and without development there is no peace. The changes resulting from globalization require social, political and economic organizations based on scientific and technological progress that can only be achieved with the decisive contribution of basic sciences. These are crucial to respond to the global challenges, namely access to food quality, basic health care, understanding the effects of climate change, to the accelerated extinction of biodiversity and natural resources. Without the contribution of basic sciences, technological development and innovation, are difficult to understand this dependency being often misunderstood.
The basic sciences associated with the social sciences and Humanities constitute a strong basis for the formation of informed citizens, professionals, policy makers and entrepreneurs capable, in conscience and free of prejudices, make decisions that positively affect their future in the world. The basic sciences constitute the base of support for the 2030 agenda of the United Nations (People, Planet, Prosperity). Having in mind the humanity, the planet and the prosperity, the eradication of poverty – a purpose to which can join peace- is an absolute requirement to transform our common world for the well-being of future generations.
The use of basic sciences is the challenge for building sustainable development, believing that’s the way to transform our World. The United Nations General Assembly in 2021 drew attention to the importance of basic sciences, emphasizing that these and the technologies emerging from them intend to respond to the needs of humanity and provide more health and well-being to individuals, communities and societies.
In this seminar will be presented the enormous contributions of the DNA discovery (resulting
from basic science) for Human development and sustainability in the Planet. I wish you a great day and invite everyone to participate in the round table that will take place after the conferences.
DNA discovery – Alexandre Quintanilha (UPorto, ACL, Parliment Deputy)
It was in 1869 that Friedrich Miescher isolated and described a new molecule, which he named nuclein, later identified as DNA. Understanding the function and structure of DNA involves two fascinating stories separated by nearly a century. The first has to do with two of the most important figures in biology in the 19th century, namely Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel.
The second, around the unavoidable names of Francis Crick, James Watson and Rosalind Franklin. Darwin presented his work to the Linnean Society in 1858 along with that of Alfred Wallace on the same subject, publishing “The Origin of Species” the following year. Gregor Mendel presented his work on the laws of heredity to the Brno Natural History Society in 1865, publishing these results in 1866.
Today we know that Mendel read and annotated “The Origin of Species”, but everything indicates that Darwin never got to know the work that Mendel had sent him, probably because it was published in German. It was the “rediscovery” of Mendel’s Laws, independently, by Hugo de Vries, Carl Correns and Erich von Tschermak-Seysenegg in 1900, which allowed Ronald Fisher to publish in 1918 the work that we now call the modern synthesis of Evolution theory. More than half a century had passed since the seminal contributions of Darwin and Mendel.
The second story results from a fertile “marriage” between physics and biology. The idea that Xray diffraction could be the technique of choice for studying the structure of biological molecules emerged in the first decades of the 20th century as a result of the work of William Henry Bragg and his son Lawrence Bragg.
Dorothy Hodgkin was one of the first to use this technique to clarify the structure of cholesterol and penicillin. John Kendrew, Max Perutz and Linus Pauling are part of a growing number of investigators who followed the same strategy. The “race” to decipher the structure of DNA was intense in the late ’40s, early ’50s. Linus Pauling put forward the (wrong) idea of a triple helix in 1952. But it is the image (nicknamed “Photo 51”) that Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling were able to obtain from X-ray diffraction by the hydrated DNA molecule, which allows Watson and Crick to propose the correct model of the double helix. Watson and Crick’s article as well as that of Franklin and Gosling’s were published in the same issue of Nature in 1953.
I would like to end by emphasizing the enormous importance of the Cavendish Laboratory in the so-called “marriage” between physics and biology. Founded in 1874, as the physics department of the University of Cambridge, it had the brilliant idea of attracting physicists, chemists, biologists and mathematicians to work together, work which has already resulted in three dozen Nobel prizes.
Find more about the seminar here.