Ten Classic Biotechnology Papers

We love helping students experience biology, technology, and science first-hand through their own experimentation. We also known that lab time can be limited and that there are so many topics to cover! Incorporating primary literature is another engaging and close to first-hand way to teach biology. When students read original science articles it helps them (1) become familiar with scientific terminology and methods, (2) learn how to critically analyze data and findings, and (3) connect to the real world of research. Here are ten classic articles that will complement advanced biology and biotechnology lab curriculum.  

  1. Why not hear about Alexander Flemings’s famous antibiotic discovery straight from the source? Flemming, A. On the antibacterial action of cultures of a Penicillium, with special reference to their use in the isolation of B. influenzae. British Journal of Experimental Pathology; 10 (3): 226–236. 1929. 
  2. Read about the first time a virus was ever seen and talk about how new technologies catalyze biological discoveries. Luria, S., Anderson, T. The Identification and Characterization of Bacteriophages with the Electron Microscope. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; 28 (4) 127-130.1. 1942.
  3. The famed double helix paper. Watson, J., Crick, F. Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid. Nature; 171, 737–738. 1953. 
  4. One of the first studies to demonstrate that a change in a gene produced a change in a protein and that this led to disease. Pauling, L., Harvey A. Itano; S. J., Singer, Wells. I. Sickle Cell Anemia, a Molecular Disease. Science; 110 (2865): 543–548. 1949. 
  5. This article details the first time DNA was synthesized in a test tube, an accomplishment that earned Dr. Kornberg the noble prize in 1959. Lehman, I. R., Bessman, M. J., Simms, E. S., Kornberg, A. Enzymatic Synthesis of Deoxyribonucleic Acid. I. Preparation of Substrates and Partial Purification of an Enzyme from Escherichia coli. Journal of Biological Chemistry; 233, 163-170. 1958. 
  6. Read how scientists unlocked the genetic code. Matthaei, H.J., Jones, O.W., Martin, R.G., Nirenberg, M.W. Characteristics and Composition of RNA Coding Units. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America; 48 (4): 666–677. 1962.
  7. This article outlines the discovery and potential of Green Fluorescent Protein which would quickly become a central tool of both cellular and molecular biologists. Shimomura, O., Johnson F., Saiga Y. Extraction, purification and properties of aequorin, a bioluminescent protein from the luminous hydromedusan, Aequorea. J Cell Comp Physiol; 62:1-8. 1962.
  8. Working with restriction enzymes this semester? Read about how these enzymes were initially discovered and examined. Meselson M., Yuan R. DNA restriction enzyme from E. coli. Nature, 217 (134):1110-4. 1968.
  9. One of the first examples of recombinant technology being used to create a life-saving medicine. Crea R, Kraszewski A, Hirose T, Itakura K. Chemical synthesis of genes for human insulin. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.; 75(12):5765-5769. 1978.
  10. Step into the shoes of early scientists as they began reading the human genome and asking questions about how this information could be safely used. Tautz D. Hypervariability of simple sequences as a general source for polymorphic DNA markers. Nucleic Acids Res.;17(16):6463-6471. 1989.

Want some suggestions on how to integrate primary literature into the classroom? The website Teach C.R.E.A.T.E. (Consider, Read, Elucidate the hypotheses, Analyze and interpret the data, and Think of the next Experiment) has a wealth of resources and suggestions.