This Week in Science History – 20/9/10

By Peter Dearden 20/09/2010


This week in Science History

Megan Leask, PhD Student, Laboratory for Evolution and Development

Ötzi the Iceman discovered in his frozen glacial tomb

Otzi the Iceman (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
Otzi the Iceman (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

In 1991 on the 19th of September, Ötzi the Iceman, a wanderer who lived approximately 5300 years ago, was discovered in the Schnalstal Glacier in the Ötztal Alps, on the border between Austria and Italy. The nickname Ötzi comes from Ötztal (Ötz valley), the region in which he was discovered. He is Europe’s oldest natural human mummy, and has offered an unprecedented view of Chalcolithic (Copper Age) Europeans. The body and his belongings are displayed in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, northern Italy. A group of scientists have sequenced Otzi’s full genome and promised to reveal it in 2011.

Uncovered: DNA holds the genetic code

In 1952, on the 20th of September, Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase published a report confirming that DNA holds hereditary data. Their experiment used the T2 bacteriophage, which, like other viruses, is a crystal of DNA and protein. It can reproduce when inside a bacterium such as E. coli. Hershey and Chase were seeking an answer to the question, ’Is it the viral DNA or viral protein coat (capsid) that is the viral genetic code material which gets injected into the E. coli?’ Their results indicated that the viral DNA, not the protein, is its genetic code material.

Lord of the Flies – Thomas Hunt Morgan – Born 25 Sep 1866; died 4 Dec 1945

Thomas Hunt Morgan
Thomas Hunt Morgan

American zoologist and geneticist and Nobel laureate (1933), Thomas Hunt Morgan was born in Lexington, Kentucky on the 25th of September. At Columbia University (1904-28), he began his revolutionary genetic investigations of the fruit fly Drosophila (1908). Initially skeptical of Gregor Mendel‘s research, Morgan performed rigorous experiments which demonstrated that genes were linked in a series on chromosomes and are responsible for identifiable, hereditary traits. In 1910 he discovered sex-linkage in Drosophila, where the phenotypic expression of an allele is related to the chromosomal sex of the individual. With his “fly room” colleagues, he mapped the relative positions of genes on Drosophila chromosomes, then published his seminal book, The Mechanisms of Mendelian Heredity (1915).