Scientist Snaps First Ever Photograph of DNA’s Double Helix

An interesting photographic first has been announced by a scientist at the University of Genoa in Italy. Enzo di Fabrizio revealed the world’s very first true photograph that shows the double helix structure of DNA, shown above.

Di Fabrizio and his colleagues developed a new technique of imaging the molecules, which contain genetic instructions and are used by all known living things for development and functioning.

Prior to the scientists’ breakthrough, which was published in the scientific journal Nanoletters, DNA’s double helix structure could only be detected by scattering X-Rays off atoms in DNA with a technique known as X-Ray crystallography. Di Fabrizio’s method uses a scanning electron microscope, which, as its name suggests, involves scanning the tiny subject with a focused beam of electrons.

Here’s the technical low-down of their technique, according to Roland Pease of New Scientist:

The trick used by Enzo di Fabrizio at the University of Genoa, Italy, and his team was to snag DNA threads out of a dilute solution and lay them on a bed of nanoscopic silicon pillars. The team developed a pattern of pillars that is extremely water-repellent, causing the moisture to evaporate quickly and leave behind strands of DNA stretched out and ready to view. The team also drilled tiny holes in the base of the nanopillar bed, through which they shone beams of electrons to make their high-resolution images.

The hope is that with some further tinkering, this technique will allow scientists to photograph single strands of DNA interacting with other molecules.

Thanks for sending in the tip, Luke!

  • Owen Robert Cherry

    Amazing! Now, to be picky… it’s not a photograph, technically, since the image was taken with electrons, not photons. Still, amazing.

  • Joy

    Technique used is Transmission Electron Microscopy, not Scanning Electron Microscopy.

  • deoxyribonucleic acid

    Horatio: Enhance.

  • mlieberman85

    Would you call it an electrograph?

  • jdm8

    I think the first photograph of DNA was X-ray, was taken in 1952, and the researchers used it to deduce the double-helix structure.

  • harumph

    That bokeh is awful.

  • Fantamagical


  • Nick

    Look at all of that noise!

  • mr. sci

    Just to get things into perspective. It is a picture of a bunch of dna molecules packed together in a bundle. It is cool but nothing revolutionary. The technique requires that the DNA is dried which also changes the structure. This severely limits the usefulness of the method…

  • Guest

    Tiniest drill bit ever

  • dik

    That is some amazing ‘macro lens’

  • Maven Feliciano

    No date.

  • Jim

    Incredible photograph! I can’t help but notice but this looks like film grain. Was this captured with emulsion? Viva film!