The Most Beautiful Experiment: Meselson and Stahl

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Matt Meselson and Frank Stahl share the story of their groundbreaking experiment from 1958 that definitively showed semiconservative DNA replication.

Matt Meselson and Frank Stahl were in their mid-20s when they performed what is now recognized as one of the most beautiful experiments in modern biology. In this short film, Matt and Frank share how they devised the groundbreaking experiment that proved semiconservative DNA replication, what it was like to see the results for the first time, and how it felt to be at the forefront of molecular biology research in the 1950s. This film celebrates a lifelong friendship, a shared love of science, and the serendipity that can lead to foundational discoveries about the living world.

0:00 Introduction
2:01 The Spark
4:14 The Very Beginning
5:23 A Gorgeous Insight
7:59 Serendipity
9:45 Three Targets
14:36 That’s Replication
17:49 The Fundamental Things
20:27 Epilogue and Credits

Speaker Biographies:
Matthew Meselson:
Dr. Meselson has made important contributions to the areas of DNA replication, repair and recombination as well as isolating the first restriction enzyme. Currently, he is Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University, where his lab studies aging in the model organism bdelloid rotifers. Meselson is also a long-time advocate for the abolition of biological and chemical weapons. He has received many honors, including a Lasker Award in 2004.

Frank Stahl:
Frank Stahl received his PhD at the University of Rochester, where he studied genetic recombination in phage. He performed postdoctoral studies at Caltech, during which he completed the famous Meselson-Stahl experiment, and joined the faculty at the University of Oregon in Eugene in 1959. He is now an emeritus faculty member who enjoys teaching and family life, and the natural wonders of Oregon.

Credits for webpage:
Elliot Kirschner (Wonder Collaborative): Executive Producer
Shannon Behrman (iBiology): Executive Producer
Brittany Anderton (iBiology): Producer
Derek Reich (ZooPrax Productions): Videographer
Eric Kornblum (iBiology): Videographer
Rebecca Ellsworth (The Edit Center): Editor
Adam Bolt (The Edit Center): Editor
Gb Kim (Explorer’s Guide to Biology): Illustrations
Chris George: Design and Graphics
Maggie Hubbard: Design and Graphics
Marcus Bagala: Original music
Samuel Bagala: Original music