Every year on April 25 since 2003, scientists, biologists, and genetics enthusiasts come together to observe National DNA Day, celebrating the discovery and research into DNA and the scientific advancements that helped make progress possible. Organized annually by the Human Genome Research Institute, National DNA Day encourages people to learn more about the science that makes them genetically unique.
History of National DNA Day
On April 25, 1953, molecular biologist James Dewey Watson’s academic paper presenting DNA’s double-helix structure (which he co-authored with British molecular biologists Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins) was published in the scientific journal, Nature. Nine years later, the three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for unearthing the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its importance for genetic information transfer in living beings.
On April 14, 2003, the Human Genome Project, an international scientific research project with the goal of determining the base pairs that make up human DNA and identifying all genes of the human genome, was declared complete. The project lasted for 13 years, finishing two years ahead of schedule, and was publicly funded by the U.S. government. It originally set to map the nucleotides contained within a human haploid genome, but scientists quickly realized that the genome of any given individual is completely unique, so mapping the human genome involved mapping the DNA of a small number of individuals and then piecing them all together to create a complete sequence for each individual chromosome. Meaning the complete human genome is more-so a mosaic rather than representative of any one individual.
Following the completion of the Human Genome Project, both the Senate and the House of Representatives proclaimed April 25, 2003 DNA Day and April as Human Genome Month. The day marked 50 years since Watson, Crick, and Wilkins’ academic paper was published and the month itself was considered significant in genome discovery. However, they only declared it a one-time celebration rather than an annual holiday. Since then, National DNA Day events and celebrations have been hosted by the National Human Genome Research Institute in order to encourage further research as well as celebrate and continue to acknowledge all of the hard work that has been dedicated to the study of DNA.
National DNA Day timeline
- April 25, 2003
50 Years of Discovery
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives declared April 25 DNA Day, 50 years after the publication of Watson, Crick, and Wilkins' discovery, and the month of April as Human Genome Month.
- April 14, 2003
Mapping the Human Genome
The Human Genome Project finalized their research project two years ahead of schedule.
NHGRI Begins It's Work
Originally referred to as the Office of Human Genome Research in The Office of the Director, the National Human Genome Research Institute began carrying out the role of the NIH in the Human Genome Project.
- April 25, 1953
A Significant Day for DNA
Biologists James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins published their academic paper in the scientific journal, Nature, presenting their findings on DNA's double-helix structure.
National DNA Day FAQs
What does DNA stand for?
DNA is an acronym for deoxyribonucleic acid, which is the molecule containing the genetic code of organisms.
When was the first National DNA Day?
National DNA Day was first celebrated on April 25, 2003, 50 years after the discover of DNA’s double-helix structure.
Why was April named Human Genome Month?
In 2003, the Senate and House of Representatives declared April as Human Genome Month because it was the month that marked the completion of the Human Genome Project as well as the month where biologists Watson, Crick, and Wilkins published their findings on DNA’s double-helix structure 50 years prior.
National DNA Day Stats
25% genetically similar
On average, siblings who share the same mother and father — excluding identical twins — appear to be 25% genetically identical and 50% half identical. This occurs because each child gets 50% of their genetic makeup from their mother and 50% from their father, meaning 25% from each has the potential to be genetically identical while the other 50% is a slightly different genetic pattern passed on to each child.
90% identifiable third cousin
There is a 90% chance that third cousins will share enough DNA for the relationship to be detected but only a 50% chance that you will share enough DNA with a fourth cousin for the relationship to be identified. This is because of the random way that autosomal DNA is inherited, causing third, fourth, and more distant cousins to not necessarily have any detectable half-identical regions.
Between 20,000 and 25,000 genes
The Human Genome Project estimated that humans have between 20,000 and 25,000 genes, however genes do not code for proteins. In humans, genes vary in size from a few hundred DNA bases to more than 2 million bases. Every person has two copies of each gene, one passed down from each parent. Most genes are the same in all people but less than 1% of the populations genes are slightly different. Alleles are forms of the same gene with small differences in their sequence of DNA bases, making up small differences to each person’s unique physical features.
How to Observe National DNA Day
Take a DNA test
Due to the scientific breakthroughs by the HGP and Watson, Crick, and Wilkins, we now have programs such as 23&Me and Ancestry in order to track our family history through our DNA. Fulfill your curiosity and learn more about yourself and your family by investing in a DNA test.
Participate in a local event
The National Human Genome Research Institute hosts annual National DNA Day Events. If you'd like to attend a local event, or host one for your city, check out their events page.
Have an open conversation with your family
The fastest way to learn about your genetic history, with some added allegorical context, is through the stories of your family members. Though family stories are often like a decades long game of telephone, where some information may not be completely accurate, there's a sense of pride that comes from hearing the stories that lead to you being able to exist today.
Why National DNA Day is Important
It acknowledges advancements in scientific discovery
Ever since the days of Aristotle, the Father of Biology, scientists have been studying living organisms and contributing to the genetic discoveries that were published in 1953 and continued today. On National DNA Day, we recognize the efforts that lead us to the knowledge we have access to today and the continued research that will lead to the discoveries of tomorrow.
It encourages people to learn more about their genetic history
The research that's lead to the celebration of National DNA Day is the science that brings us closer to our roots. This day feeds that sense of belonging by encouraging us to take the dive into learning more about who we are and where we come from.
It's a day where the public can learn more about genetics and genomics
From genetic history to gene editing, there's a lot to learn when it comes to the structure and function of genomes. On National DNA Day, the public is encouraged to access any and all available information to learn more about their genetic makeup and the molecular biology of all living things.