Nottingham celebrates 70th anniversary of the discovery of hydrogen bonds in DNA

07 Nov 2017 14:53:15.535


The discovery of hydrogen bonds in DNA was made by a young Nottingham Post Graduate student, J. Michael Creeth, in what was known as the Nucleic Acid Laboratory at (the then) University College Nottingham. The results were published in the Journal of the Chemical Society on 1 January 1947. The discovery paved the way for the double helix model by Watson and Crick six years later.

On Friday 10 November 2017, the University of Nottingham will mark the 70th anniversary of the publication of this research with a one day celebratory meeting attended by 16 members of the Creeth family. The event will be held in the Trent Building on University Park where the discovery was made.

It is being staged with the support of the Biochemical Society, Royal Society of Chemistry and the British Biophysical Society and will conclude with a plaque unveiling by Mrs Patricia Creeth, Dr Creeth’s wife, at the entrance to the Trent Building, the site of the former Nucleic Acid Laboratory.

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Professor Stephen Harding, Professor of Applied Biochemistry in the School of Biosciences at the University of Nottingham, was Dr Creeth’s last Post-Doctoral Research Assistant at the University of Bristol. Professor Harding, who co-authored Creeth’s obituary for the Independent newspaper and the Biochemical Society, will lead the commemoration with a brief history of the discovery in 1947 - which was made under the supervision of Dr D.O Jordan and Professor J.M Gulland FRS.

Leading academics to help mark the anniversary

Professor Harding said: “The discovery of the bonds which hold the DNA molecule together by Creeth and colleagues was crucial to the eventual elucidation of the Double Helix structure. Seventy years on we celebrate this discovery by rekindling those pioneering measurements and then we take a snapshot at some the many great advances that have occurred since those exciting early days in our understanding of DNA and hydrogen bonds helped by leading experts in the field who will reveal their latest research findings.”
Leading academics will bring the audience up-to-date with the latest research and findings around both Hydrogen Bonds and DNA.

Among them Professor Turi King of the University of Leicester who is currently leading the research project into the genome sequencing of Richard III and Sir Shankar Balasubramanian FRS, Herchel Smith Professor of Medicinal Chemistry in the Department of Chemistry the University of Cambridge.

Creeth’s Nottingham DNA

Dr JM (Michael) Creeth, graduated in chemistry from University College Nottingham (now the University of Nottingham) in 1944. Dr Creeth played a key part in the race to identify the structure of the ‘code of life’ in his Nottingham lab — a little-known chapter in the story that ended with the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA, which earned James Watson and Francis Crick their Nobel Prize. He died in January 2010 at the age of 85.

Following his degree, Dr Creeth embarked on his PhD in what was then the University’s Department of Chemistry, supervised by Dr. DO Jordan and Professor JM Gulland FRS. Using an excellent sample of DNA obtained by fellow student Cedric Threlfall, and building on titrometric measurements of another fellow student H.F.W. Taylor,  Dr Creeth eventually came to the important conclusion based on further definitive measurements on the physical properties oif DNA solutions that the bases of DNA were linked by hydrogen bonds. He even went as far as producing an early model for DNA – which appeared in his PhD thesis also in 1947, not too dissimilar to the final 1953 structure of Watson and Crick.

Event programme

08:30 – 09:15 Registration
09:15 – 09:20 Professor Sir Martyn Poliakoff FRS, the University of Nottingham – welcome address
09:20 – 09:40 Professor Stephen Harding, the University of Nottingham – The 1947 discovery by Creeth, Gulland and Jordan
09:40 -10:10 Dr Sarah Harris, University of Leeds – Modern methods for modelling DNA structure and its interactions
10:10 – 10:40 Professor Tom Brown, University of Oxford – Applications of oligonucleotide chemistry
10:40 – 11:10 Refreshments
11:10 – 11:40 Professor Sir Shankar Balasubramanian FRS, University of Cambridge, UK) – G-quadruplex structures in DNA and RNA
11:40 – 12:10 Professor Francis Martin, University of Central Lancashire – DNA damage by carcinogens
12:10 – 12:40 Dr Nick Robinson, University of Cambridge – DNA repair
12:40 – 13:30 Lunch and poster viewing
13:30 – 14:00 Professor Turi King, University of Leicester – The DNA of King Richard III
14:00 – 14:30 Professor Mark Jobling, University of Leicester – DNA diversity in humans
14:30 – 14:45 Dr Adam Sweetman, University of Nottingham – Do we ‘see’ hydrogen bonds in ultra-high-resolution scanning probe images of 2D hydrogen-bonded molecular islands?
14:45 – 15:15 Refreshments
15:15 – 15:45 Professor Patricia Hunt, Imperial College London – Hydrogen bonding and Ionic Liquids
15:45 – 16:15 Professor Thomas Heinze, Fridrich Schiller Universität Jena – Cellulose
16:15 – 16:45 Professor Graham Seymour, University of Nottingham – DNA and the fruit ripening story
16:45 – 17:00 Poster prize and closing remarks
17:00 Plaque unveiling by the Creeth family

Story credits

Note to editors: More information is available from Professor Stephen Harding, in the School of Biosciences on +44 (0) 115 9516148
Lindsay Brooke

Lindsay Brooke - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5751 Location: University Park

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Published Date
Monday 13th September 2010

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