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DNA Replication: A Case Discussion of a Landmark Paper by Meselson and Stahl




Shoumita Dasgupta



This exercise couples a classic primary literature paper detailing the process of DNA replication with a set of questions designed to both guide students through the process of reading papers and delve deeply into the critical concept of replication.  Meselson and Stahl (1958) is an ideal paper to introduce students to the art of reading papers and appreciating beautiful science; not only was this a landmark experiment for the essential process it helped to define, but it was also recognized for its elegant simplicity. This resource is a facilitator's guide to help run a discussion session for senior undergraduate or junior graduate students.

Genetics Concept(s) Addressed:

Nature of Genetic Material: What are the molecular components and mechanisms necessary to preserve and duplicate an organism’s genome?

Core Competencies Addressed:

Students should be able to implement observational strategies to formulate a question.

Students should be able to generate testable hypotheses.

Students should be able to gather and evaluate experimental evidence, including qualitative and quantitative data.

Students should be able to generate and interpret graphs displaying experimental results.

Students should be able to communicate experimental results effectively, including writing research papers and giving presentations.



Advanced undergraduate; biology/genetics majors; introductory graduate

Activity Type:

In-Class/Lecture Exercise

Activity Length:

1-2 hours prior to class

1 hour in class




Dasgupta, Shoumita (2013). DNA Replication: A Case Discussion of a Landmark Paper by Meselson and Stahl. Genetics Society of America Peer-Reviewed Education Portal (GSA PREP): 2013.006; doi: 10.1534/gsaprep.2013.006



Resource Justification and Instructor Guide


Student Handout

Pre-class Resources

Meselson and Stahl (1958)

Watson and Crick (1953)