Have you heard of National DNA Day? It’s a day to celebrate the scientific milestones related to the blueprint for life: DNA.

The nucleic acid, DNA, contains the genetic information that all living things pass down through generations. Each step in research that helped us better understand DNA has changed how we look at ourselves, our ancestry, and how we treat diseases.

This article provides a short introduction to National DNA Day to encourage recognition of this day and the major milestones related to DNA. At the end, you’ll find links to National DNA Day activities and resources.

What is National DNA Day?

The National Human Genome Research Institute describes National DNA Day as "a unique day when students, teachers, and the public can learn more about genetics and genomics.” The day celebrates the Human Genome Project and characterization of the structure of DNA.

But how did it become National DNA Day? By a literal act of congress. The United States House of Representatives and Senate declared it so. Originally, the House Resolution Designating National DNA Day declared April 2003 as ‘Human Genome Month’ to commemorate the completion of the sequencing of the human genome and April 25, 2003, as ‘DNA Day’ in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the publication describing the double-helix structure of DNA on April 25, 1953.

Two Major Milestones Related to DNA

National DNA Day began as a day to recognize two major milestones related to DNA. However, knowing the structure of DNA and the sequence of the human genome were based on numerous other breakthroughs, and together this information altered how we understand our health and diseases.

1. Discovering the Structure of DNA

The 1953 publication “Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid” by James D Watson and Francis HC Crick documents the discovery of the DNA structure as a 3D double helix.

To characterize the structure of DNA, though, many other pieces of information were necessary. Here are a few:

  • 1869 – Friedrich Miescher discovered DNA
  • 1944 – Oswald Avery determined that genes are made up of DNA
  • 1950 – Erwin Chargaff came up with what we call “Chargaff’s Rule” that the nucleotide bases, purines and pyrimidines, are equally distributed in DNA. So, the number of As and Gs (purines) is the same as Ts and Cs (pyrimidines). However, he didn’t know that As paired with Ts and Gs paired with Cs.
  • 1952 – Rosalind Franklin and Ray Gosling imaged DNA that indicated a helical shape

Watson and Crick consolidated the available evidence to determine the DNA structure. This knowledge would enable scientists to figure out how genes are passed down and involved in making proteins through the genetic code.

2. Sequencing the Human Genome

Determining the arrangement of the 50,000,000 to 300,000,000 base pair human genome was the key to understanding how our genes impact our ancestry, development, and health. As with the structure of DNA, many discoveries preceded and were required for sequencing the human genome. The Human Genome Project began in October 1990 and was declared “essentially finished” at 99% in April 2003. As an added benefit, the scale of this project pushed scientists to develop highly efficient sequencing technologies that continue to expand our access to sequences from across biology.

With sequences, researchers can determine the functions of genes in the human genome. Gene functions can help predict traits, disorders, and diseases that were difficult to link before sequencing because they stemmed from multiple genes. It’s also possible to create diagnostic tests and develop targeted treatments based on the genes involved. For example, one gene-based treatment called gene therapy works by replacing mutated with correct sequences. Some types of gene therapy use viral vectors like adeno-associated virus (AAV) to deliver sequences to specific cell types. There are US FDA–approved gene therapies to treat spinal muscular atrophy and a specific type of vision loss, with many others in clinical trials.

In addition to studying diseases and disorders, the human genome helps us understand our ancestry and evolution. Genomes sequences can be compared to other family members, other people globally, and our near and distant ancestors using ancient samples. And by comparing our DNA to other organisms, researchers can gain insights into evolution.

How to Celebrate Human Genome Month and National DNA Day

Each year, you can celebrate Human Genome Month in April and National DNA Day on April 25. So, participate in a DNA Day activity and marvel at the advances in DNA research.

The official website for National DNA Day lists numerous activities, some including lesson plans for teachers. It also provides a starter kit for anyone who wants to host an event.

DNA Day Activities

Resources to Learn More About DNA, Genomics, and Genetics

Be sure to explore our products related to sequencing and gene therapy.