1. Headline
  1. Headline
Enzo Di Fabrizio
DNA's double-helix structure is on display for the first time in this electron microscope photograph of a small bundle of DNA strands.
By
updated 11/30/2012 4:15:53 PM ET 2012-11-30T21:15:53

Fifty-nine years after James Watson and Francis Crick deduced the double-helix structure of DNA, a scientist has captured the first direct photograph of the twisted ladder that props up life.

Enzo Di Fabrizio, a physics professor at Magna Graecia University in Catanzaro, Italy, snapped the picture using an electron microscope.

Previously, scientists had only seen DNA's structure indirectly. The double-corkscrew form was first discovered using a technique called X-ray crystallography, in which a material's shape is reconstructed based on how X-rays bounce after they collide with it.

Enzo Di Fabrizio
A bundle of DNA is supported by two silicon pillars.

But Di Fabrizio and his colleagues developed a plan to bring DNA out of hiding. They built a nanoscopic landscape of extremely water-repellant silicon pillars. When they added a solution that contained strands of DNA into this scene, the water quickly evaporated and left behind cords of bare DNA that stretched like tightropes between the tiny mesas.

They then shone beams of electrons through holes in the silicon bed, and captured high-resolution images of the illuminated molecules.

  1. Science news from NBCNews.com
    1. Cosmic rays may spark Earth's lightning
      NOAA

      All lightning on Earth may have its roots in space, new research suggests.

    2. How our brains can track a 100 mph pitch
    3. Moth found to have ultrasonic hearing
    4. Quantum network could secure Internet

Di Fabrizio's images actually show a thread of several interwoven DNA molecules, as opposed to just two coupled strands. This is because the energy of the electrons used would be enough to destroy an isolated double helix, or a single strand from a double helix.

But with the use of more sensitive equipment and lower energy electrons, Di Fabrizio thinks that snapshots of individual double helices will soon be possible, New Scientist reports.

Molecules of DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, store the genetic instructions that govern all living organisms' growth and function.

Di Fabrizio's innovation will allow scientists to vividly observe interactions between DNA and some of life's other essential ingredients, such as RNA (r ibonucleic acid ). The results of Di Fabrizio's work were published in the journal NanoLetters.

Follow Life's Little Mysteries on Twitter @llmysteries. We're also on Facebook  and  Google+.

© 2013 LifesLittleMysteries.com. All rights reserved. More from LifesLittleMysteries.com.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

More on TODAY.com

  1. TODAY

    Black Friday survival guide: 7 apps to help you shop

    11/28/2014 12:05:43 PM +00:00 2014-11-28T12:05:43
  1. Blogging Over Thyme , A Spicy Pe

    8 great recipes for leftover Thanksgiving sides and desserts

    11/26/2014 5:11:02 PM +00:00 2014-11-26T17:11:02
  1. Star Wars / YouTube

    ‘There has been an awakening’: See the new ‘Star Wars’ trailer

    11/28/2014 4:46:51 PM +00:00 2014-11-28T16:46:51
  1. Andrew Kelly / Reuters

    video Black Friday shoppers flock into stores

    11/28/2014 12:17:55 PM +00:00 2014-11-28T12:17:55
  1. Courtesy of Courtney Rowland/Nei

    6 awesome turkey sandwiches to make with your Thanksgiving leftovers

    11/26/2014 1:57:02 PM +00:00 2014-11-26T13:57:02
  1. TODAY

    Watch this flight attendant rock Lorde’s ‘Royals'

    11/28/2014 4:05:10 PM +00:00 2014-11-28T16:05:10