Modern Indian History-Events and Personalities

Rosalind Franklin: the unsung heroine of DNA


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: DNA/RNA

Mains level: Not Much

The famous British scientist and virologist Rosalind Franklin is remembered across the world on her birth centenary who worked to construct the double-helix structure of DNA.

Try this PYQ from CSP 2019:

DNA/RNA has been an all-time favourite of UPSC!

Q.‘RNA interference (RNAi)’ technology has gained popularity in the last few years. Why?

  1. It is used in developing gene-silencing therapies.
  2. It can be used in developing therapies for the treatment of cancer.
  3. It can be used to develop hormone replacement therapies.
  4. It can be used to produce crop plants that are resistant to viral pathogens.

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1, 2 and 4

(b) 2 and 3

(c) 1 and 3

(d) 1 and 4 only

Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)

  • She was an English chemist and X-ray crystallographer whose work was central to the understanding of the molecular structures of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), RNA (ribonucleic acid), viruses, coal, and graphite.
  • Although her works on coal and viruses were appreciated in her lifetime, her contributions to the discovery of the structure of DNA were largely recognised posthumously.

DNA breakthrough

  • In 1952, Raymond Gosling, a graduate student at King’s College London, took a historic X-ray photograph under Franklin’s supervision.
  • Photo 51, as it is called, demonstrates the now-familiar, double-helix structure of DNA.

Why is she remembered now?

  • The world is currently gripped in a pandemic, and her pioneering research in virology provided a crucial early step in the search for cures, vaccinations and tests.
  • During the Second World War, Franklin carried out research into coal and graphite that proved important for gas-masks, the PPE of that time.
  • It is because of Franklin, her collaborators and successors, that today’s researchers are able to use tools such as DNA sequencing and X-ray crystallography to investigate viruses such as COVID-10.

Back2Basics: DNA/RNA 

  • Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and Ribonucleic acid (RNA) are perhaps the most important molecules in cell biology, responsible for the storage and reading of genetic information that underpins all life.
  • They are both linear polymers, consisting of sugars, phosphates and bases, but there are some key differences which separate the two.
  • These distinctions enable the two molecules to work together and fulfil their essential roles.
  • DNA encodes all genetic information and is the blueprint from which all biological life is created. And that’s only in the short-term.
  • In the long-term, DNA is a storage device, a biological flash drive that allows the blueprint of life to be passed between generations.
  • RNA functions as the reader that decodes this flash drive. This reading process is multi-step and there are specialized RNAs for each of these steps.

Three types of RNA

  • Messenger RNA (mRNA) copies portions of genetic code; a process called transcription and transports these copies to ribosomes, which are the cellular factories that facilitate the production of proteins from this code.
  • Transfer RNA (tRNA) is responsible for bringing amino acids, basic protein building blocks, to these protein factories, in response to the coded instructions introduced by the mRNA. This protein-building process is called translation.
  • Finally, Ribosomal RNA (rRNA) is a component of the ribosome factory itself without which protein production would not occur.

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