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Double helix 1953-2003
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DNA alcoholic spring water
James Watson 'Think Different' posterApple computer - Watson poster

This poster showing a young Jim Watson was part of Apple Computer's 'Think different' advertising campaign in the late 1990s. It didn't appear as one of the main posters in the campaign however, but was issued in a series of smaller 'Educators' posters intended for schools in the USA. It's now a rare collector's item.

The photograph was originally taken by Andreas Feininger for Time magazine in 1957, while Watson was in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The model Watson is holding is a display model that was probably made by Tony Broad in Cambridge, UK in 1953.

DNA drink
DNA alcoholic spring water

Australian South State Food and Beverage cashed in on the DNA fingerprinting breakthroughs of the early 1990s by producing a DNA-branded 'alcopop' aimed at the youth market. Flavoured with lime and thyme this alcoholic (5%) spring water has proved an international success for its Australian producers.

The award-winning packaging incorporates a fluorescent fingerprint which is naturally magnified by the curve and liquid contents of the bottle.

DNA perfume

DNA cologne and perfume (with varieties for both men and women) were launched by the Iranian designer Bijan Pakzad in 1993. The packaging states that these products do not contain any DNA; they come in triple helix-shaped bottles.

The perfume was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize in Chemistry in October 1995. James Watson commented at the time, saying that Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, always said that an idea was good if it smelt right. "The double helix smelt right", Watson noted. "I have to ask now, would the double helix have received a better reception if on the manuscript we sent off we had sprayed DNA Perfume? I don't think so. My feeling is, if you want to succeed in science, don't smell".

At the 'Iggies' awards ceremony, the presiding (real) Nobel Laureates were presented with bottles of the perfume. One of them (physicist Shelly Glashow of Harvard University) thanked the organisers afterwards, stating in a letter:

"My gifts of DNA fragrances at the Ig are much appreciated: my wife, using her DNA perfume sample while vacationing in Vietnam, discovered its serendipitous efficacy as a mosquito repellent. The men's product has a similar, though somewhat less effective, action on my students. We hope that DNA may be adopted as the Official Fragrance for pest control at the Ig Nobel Ceremonies".

DNA cologne
DNA perfume
Encapsulated DNA
Dog with DNA pendant

When Nobel Laureate-to-be Kary Mullis was interviewed for OMNI magazine in 1992, he suggested that he might start a DNA jewellery company, using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to amplify the DNA of famous long-dead people.

Today there are numerous companies world-wide offering this high-tech version of the Victorian locket containing a curl of hair from a loved one. Usually, however, the samples are simply precipitated from buccal swabs of living people rather than being amplified by the PCR. A firm which caught our attention was DNA Tech in Hong Kong. As well as human samples, they'll encapsulate your pet's DNA. In 2002 they even supplied reindeer DNA jewellery as a novel Christmas gift.

1999 millennium stamp

Postage stamps

Many stamps featuring the double helix have appeared since 1953. The earliest was an Israeli stamp in 1964, that rather unfortunately showed an incorrect left-handed double helix. Swedish stamps commemorating the work of Nobel laureates, including Crick, Watson and Wilkins were issued in 1989. The stamp on the right, 'Decoding DNA' was designed for the Royal Mail by sculptor Mark Curtis, and was part of four science-related stamps in the 1999 Millennium Stamps collection. Unfortunately it shows a spiral, not a DNA helix.

On 25 February 2003 the Royal Mail issued a set of five stamps celebrating the 'Secret of Life', featuring humorous illustrations by The Times's political cartoonist Peter Brookes. A presentation pack is also available, with background text written by Tim Radford (science editor of the The Guardian). Although popular science writer Susan Aldridge advised on the stamps' designs, almost all of the scientists they depict are male, white and middle-aged, unlike most of those who conduct DNA-related research these days, or even in 1953. It has not escaped our notice that one character also bears an uncanny resemblance to fertility pioneer Lord Robert Winston.

First class stampSecond class stamp47 pence stamp68 pence stampEuro stamp
Genetic code watchSwatch genetic code watch

Latching onto the 'genome fever' of 2000, this watch was available exclusively to members of The Swatch Club (the firm's club for collectors of their watches) for a limited period. The watch came packaged inside an oversized test tube, and was accompanied by a credit-card sized CD-ROM. This enabled owners to play an on-line game.

Although the double helix appeared on promotional literature, it did not feature in the watch design or packaging.

Royal Society door handle
DNA door handles

When The Royal Society was refurbished in 2001, the door handles at its Carlton House Terrace headquarters were replaced with specially-commissioned glass handles encasing DNA-like helices. These are reminiscent of the central design of the Royal Mail's Curtis stamps from 1999 (see above).

It is rumoured that the artist had at first made left-handed helices and that they had to be replaced later with the correct right-handed variety. Apparently the left-handed ones may still be found deep within the building.

Stained glass window

This commemorative stained-glass window is the work of New Zealand artist and stained-glass specialist Kathy Shaw. The window features the 'tree of life', bordered by a spiralling double helix structure. Blocks of DNA sequencing also frame the branches.

Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge also has a stained glass 'Crick window' in its dining room, designed by Maria McClafferty based on the Swedish postage stamp design. It was installed in 1993 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the double helix discovery.

Sanger Institute window

Photograph courtesy of the Wellcome Trust Medical Photographic Library.

Royal Berks hospital
DNA sculpture

When the new Craven Road entrance to the rebuilt Royal Berkshire Hospital was opened to the public in August 2001, it seemed appropriate that the post-genomic era of medicine should be represented by a double helix.

Other places we've spotted double helix sculptures are the Centre for Life, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the Millennium River Park, Maidstone, outside the European Molecular Biology Organisation canteen in Heidelberg and at the Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley.

DNA music
Album cover : Axis mutatis
Album cover: Double helix

There are numerous examples of 'DNA music'. Here are a few:

The Shamen's album 'Axis Mutatis' has a track (S2 Translation) that is derived from sequence data for the S2 seratonin receptor - no prizes for guessing the chemical inspiration there! The only disappointment is that the album cover shows - hanging in the tree - (yes, you've guessed it) a left-handed double helix.

If you wish to create your own DNA 'music', you might like to try the Algorithmic Arts software for 'Windows' operating systems. Ready-made DNA music can be downloaded in MP3 format from:

Jazz pianists Andy Jaffe and Tom McClung released 'Double helix', an album of Duke Ellington themes in 1998.

DNA music of a totally different kind is the 'Double-talking helix blues', a children's book and cassette tape by Joel Herskowitz, which is available from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.

Finally, don't forget the Musical DNA Atlas at the Nucleic Acids Database at Rutgers University.

Triple helix CD rack
'Life form' CD rack

Need somewhere to store your DNA music? Surely the Science Museum, as the home of the [reconstructed] Watson and Crick Double Helix, should know better? To quote from the Museum's gift catalogue in which this rack features:

"This stunning CD rack echoes the helix form of DNA..."

Trouble is, this CD rack is a left-handed, triple helix. Nothing like DNA. Ah well, perhaps left-hander Linus Pauling -- who once proposed an incorrect triple helix for DNA -- might have sympathised. Even so, £200 (the Museum's price) is a lot to spend on a 'DNA' CD rack that's wrong in almost every scientific respect. The design (by Bruce MacDonald of BRM Designs) is quite pleasing and well-crafted from fine materials, but to associate it with DNA is stretching things a bit, we think.

DNA shelvingDNA shelf

Tom Schneider's superb furniture is something to lust after. Beautifully-crafted in a range of woods, the acclaimed 'DNA' range includes tall shelving units and smaller tables. Sadly, this double helix furniture is left-handed.

Tom's craftsmen will, however, undertake special commissions, so perhaps they could be persuaded to make right-handed DNA shelving.

DNA lamp table
DNA ties
Replicating DNA tieScience shirts DNA ties

The RNA Tie Club was of course started by George Gamow, but partly because of their dimensions, DNA molecules have also been popular on ties for some time.

Our friends at Science Shirts here in the UK have been selling accurate double helix ties for years (right). They come in red, green and blue (polyester) and black (silk).

Several other suppliers now carry DNA ties too, almost always with woefully incorrect structures,such as the left-handed design shown on the left.

Another notable supplier of (accurate) DNA ties is 'DNA stuff', a charitable venture which supports the work of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

DNA pattern rug

DNA rugs

An offshoot of the DNA-testing firm Complement Genomics in Sunderland, DesigNAgifts produces innovative artworks incorporating information from genetic profiles. This is what they say about the rug shown on the right:

"Your living space will be transformed with a fireside rug which incorporates up to four genetic profiles. These 3 ft (90 cm) by 5 ft (150 cm) rugs are hand tufted with 100% wool in short or long pile and are available in three different designs with colour combinations chosen to match your décor. (The example shown is the "GenePool" design in cool blues)."

DNA £2 coin
£2 DNA coin

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the elucidation of the structure of DNA, The Royal Mint issued for circulation (from 31st March) a special £2 coin designed by John Mills. The reverse of the coin depicts a double helix, while the edge inscription says "deoxyribonucleic acid" and is accompanied by a double helix motif.

The Mint has also produced a specially-designed presentation folder containing a brilliant uncirculated coin. Gold and silver commemorative proof coins and a variety of other items are also available.

DNA key ring
Body zone in Millennium Dome

The massive body sculpture in the UK's Millennium Dome was covered with multicoloured tiles. Visitors to the Dome could buy key rings made from these tiles, and one design was in the shape of a double helix.

Unfortunately, these key rings were expensive and we didn't buy one, so cannot show you a picture here. The body sculpture itself, like much of the Dome's contents, ended up as landfill.

DNA Golly brooch
DNA Golly brooch

James Robertson & Sons, a preserve manufacturer founded in 1864, used Golly as their trademark between 1910 and 2002. In the 1920s they started to issue enamel brooches carrying the Golly image and continued to do so until November 2002. Although 'political correctness' has been cited as the reason for abandoning the trademark, the company stated that it had simply declined in popularity.

This DNA brooch was one of a set issued in 2001 to commemorate key events of the 20th century. It was the last ever official Golly badge set. Robertsons do not supply these badges any more, although they sometimes appear on on-line auction sites.

Photograph courtesy of
Golly Corner

CATGee(TM) DNA sampling kit

At first sight this seems a slightly unusual product to offer the general public. You don the supplied (blue) rubber gloves, take a mouth swab then place your cheek cells on a piece of filter paper. The paper is impregnated with an indicator buffer that lyses the cells and preserves their DNA, allowing the sample to be kept at room temperature. The kit comes with sterile pouches in which to put the paper, which is then stored inside a stylish aluminium tin.

For an additional fee, you can join the 'CATGee Club', which permits you to buy items such as T shirts with some of your personal genetic data printed on them.

This technology, which is widely used for archiving DNA, was developed by Prof. Leigh Burgoyne at Flinders University in Australia. It is sold by Whatman (as 'FTA cards') for DNA sampling and storage in research and forensic investigations. CATGee's associated company DNA-Point also sells a range of home DNA storage kits as well as products intended for research use. While we tended at first to dismiss this idea as a gimmick, the idea of creating a 'family tree' of genetic information is thought-provoking and in some circumstances could be a sensible strategy.

CATGee kit photo
DNA-containing badges ('pins')

Many different enamel badges ('pins') were produced to celebrate the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Two unusual sets were produced by the US firm Aminco featuring Australian Olympians - swimmers Dawn Fraser and Murray Rose.

The unusual feature was that each badge contained the athlete's DNA - the first time this has been done for a sporting great. Both sets were produced as a limited edition of 5,000 sets, each with an individually-numbered certificate and in a presentation case.

Fraser DNA badges
DNA anti-forgery wine labelEileen Hardy Shiraz

The more expensive Eileen Hardy Shiraz wines are now protected from forgery by DNA from grape vines incorporated into the ink on the label. This can be detected by a hand-held scanner, proving the authenticity of the wine. Hardy's first used the DNA technology in 1998 vintage wines that were released for sale in the UK in June 2001, and it's now available to other wine producers. The DNA ink technology was developed by DNA Technologies Pty Ltd in Australia.

DNA broochesDNA brooch

The DNA brooch on the right comes from Juno in Alaska rather than a suburb of Manchester. Designed by William Spear, this is one of numerous enamel brooches he's produced on a medical/genetic theme.

On the left is an elegant metal badge produced in Poland for the British Council there. The badges will be given to people attending special events held by the British Council in Poland to celebrate the 50th anniversary.

Another notable supplier of (more costly) DNA jewellery is 'DNA stuff', a charitable venture which supports the work of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

DNA brooch
John and Dean with BBSRC climbing frame.
DNA climbing frame

This wonderful DNA climbing frame was originally built for the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council by Science Projects. It can now be seen at the Observatory Science Centre, Herstmonceux, UK.

(The photo on the right was taken in 1997 in the foyer of the Department of Trade and Industry in London, on the day that the General Election was declared. As we sensed that a Labour victory was in the air, John played Crick on the left for a change.)

Dean's DNA dustbin
Double helix dustbin

DNA recovered from household waste has achieved some notoriety of late, but there's sometimes no need to search inside the bin for DNA. Many companies have double helix logos, but most of those that do are suppliers of scientific equipment and materials. Amazingly, my dustbin (or rather, Reading Borough Council's dustbin) also sports a DNA logo. The firm that made the bins was taken over several years ago and newer models issued by the council no longer bear the helical mark.

DNA scarf
Knitted DNA scarf

Why didn't we think of this brilliant idea? This scarf pattern was commissioned by Thomas Montville, a professor at Rutgers University. Prof. Montville agreed to serve on June's doctoral thesis committee in return. Instructions for making June's scarf can be found on her Web site, and were also published in the Society for General Microbiology's quarterly magazine 'Microbiology Today' in February. The photo to the right shows just part of the scarf pattern.

Please note: the February edition of 'Microbiology Today' has several other articles celebratinng the 50th Anniversary of the Double Helix. Teachers can obtain a copy by joining the SGM's Schools' Affiliation Scheme.


DNA temporary tattoos
DNA tattoos

For a country that reputedly refused entry to your Granny's favourite songster because his hair was too long, this is a wild idea. Singapore's National Science Scholarship Programme produced these temporary tattoos to try to interest the nation's youth in science. They wrap round the arm (or wherever) like one of those 'celtic bands'. Would Cliff Richard have approved?

Magic Eye image
DNA 'Magic eye' image

1996 was the year of the 'Magic Eye' craze. Those lucky enough to be able to see them could pick out 3-D images amid a wash of coloured dots. The one on the right came on a promotional postcard from the journal 'Trends in Cell Biology' and features plasmid DNA, I'm told. It's all dots to me, however.

DNA (and RNA) tablets
DNA/RNA tablets

Not got enough DNA of your own? Never fear, you can top up with these tablets three times a day, although it's probably cheaper to eat a banana or almost any sort of food. The suppliers, Green Canyon, claim that:

"Nucleic acids are essential to the cells so that life, health and proper functions can be maintained."

We can't argue with that.

The nucleic acids in these tablets are derived from an unspecified animal source. Lovely.

'Twister' double helix ice cream

John and I were delighted to discover this 'DNA ice cream' in the students' union shop the other day. Anything edible is of particular interest to us both. Encouraged by two drawings of right-handed helices on the wrapper we invested in a 'Twister'. Imagine our disappointment when we found that the ice cream within was left-handed!

'Twister' ice cream
DNA skateboard and skate backpack
Skateboard deck
Skateboard rucksack

OK, we're both just a few years older than Tony Hawk, so that probably explains why we're not really into the skate scene. But if we were these would be the decks we'd go for, naturally ;-)

This firm makes a wide range of designs sporting a double helix logo - which even appears on the wheels.

They also make the immensely-practical backpack shown on the left. (I can't help but ask myself what might happen if you were to fall over backwards while wearing it, skateboard attached.)

DNA flowerbed
DNA flower bed

Spring is coming, but don't try this at home without asking for permission first. The red plants are coleus, the silver-green ones look like anaemic nettles (who knows what they are?).

Anyway, this is an appropriate location for a DNA flower bed if ever there was one because Jim Watson is president of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Photograph courtesy of The Dolan DNA Learning Center

Go to Ephemera: Part 2

Copyright © National Centre for Biotechnology Education, 2006 |