Homologous Recombination - History and Discovery

History and Discovery

In the early 1900s, William Bateson and Reginald Punnett found an exception to one of the principles of inheritance originally described by Gregor Mendel in the 1860s. In contrast to Mendel's notion that traits are independently assorted when passed from parent to child—for example that a cat's hair color and its tail length are inherited independent of each other—Bateson and Punnett showed that certain genes associated with physical traits can be inherited together, or genetically linked. In 1911, after observing that linked traits could on occasion be inherited separately, Thomas Hunt Morgan suggested that "crossovers" can occur between linked genes, where one of the linked genes physically crosses over to a different chromosome. Two decades later, Barbara McClintock and Harriet Creighton demonstrated that chromosomal crossover occurs during meiosis, the process of cell division by which sperm and egg cells are made. Within the same year as McClintock's discovery, Curt Stern showed that crossing over—later called "recombination"—could also occur in somatic cells like white blood cells and skin cells that divide through mitosis.

In 1947, the microbiologist Joshua Lederberg showed that bacteria—which had been assumed to reproduce only asexually through binary fission—are capable of genetic recombination, which is more similar to sexual reproduction. This work established E. coli as a model organism in genetics, and helped Lederberg win the 1958 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Building on studies in fungi, in 1964 Robin Holliday proposed a model for recombination in meiosis which introduced key details of how the process can work, including the exchange of material between chromosomes through Holliday junctions. In 1983, Jack Szostak and colleagues presented a model now known as the DSBR pathway, which accounted for observations not explained by the Holliday model. During the next decade, experiments in Drosophila, budding yeast and mammalian cells led to the emergence of other models of homologous recombination, called SDSA pathways, which do not always rely on Holliday junctions.

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