The Debate over DNA Replication Before the Meselson-Stahl Experiment (1953–1957)
Between 1953 and 1957, before the Meselson-Stahl experiment verified semi-conservative replication of DNA, scientists debated how DNA replicated. In 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick proposed that DNA was composed of two helical strands that wound together in a coil. Their model suggested a replication mechanism, later termed semi-conservative replication, in which parental DNA strands separated and served as templates for the replication of new daughter strands. Many scientists, beginning with Max Delbrück, questioned Watson and Cricks’ model and suggested new theories for DNA replication. By 1957, three theories about DNA replication prevailed: semi-conservative, conservative, and dispersive replication. Then, Matthew Meselson and Franklin Stahl conducted the Meselson-Stahl experiment, which returned results that supported the semi-conservative theory of DNA replication. The collaboration among scientists that ultimately produced concrete evidence of the DNA replication mechanism furthered both theoretical and physical explanations of genetics and molecular biology, providing insight into how life develops, reproduces, and evolves.