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Open Access Highly Accessed Opinion

The multiple personalities of Watson and Crick strands

Reed A Cartwright* and Dan Graur

Author Affiliations

Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Houston, Houston, Texas 77204-5001, USA

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Biology Direct 2011, 6:7  doi:10.1186/1745-6150-6-7

Published: 8 February 2011

Abstract

Background

In genetics it is customary to refer to double-stranded DNA as containing a "Watson strand" and a "Crick strand." However, there seems to be no consensus in the literature on the exact meaning of these two terms, and the many usages contradict one another as well as the original definition. Here, we review the history of the terminology and suggest retaining a single sense that is currently the most useful and consistent.

Proposal

The Saccharomyces Genome Database defines the Watson strand as the strand which has its 5'-end at the short-arm telomere and the Crick strand as its complement. The Watson strand is always used as the reference strand in their database. Using this as the basis of our standard, we recommend that Watson and Crick strand terminology only be used in the context of genomics. When possible, the centromere or other genomic feature should be used as a reference point, dividing the chromosome into two arms of unequal lengths. Under our proposal, the Watson strand is standardized as the strand whose 5'-end is on the short arm of the chromosome, and the Crick strand as the one whose 5'-end is on the long arm. Furthermore, the Watson strand should be retained as the reference (plus) strand in a genomic database. This usage not only makes the determination of Watson and Crick unambiguous, but also allows unambiguous selection of reference stands for genomics.

Reviewers

This article was reviewed by John M. Logsdon, Igor B. Rogozin (nominated by Andrey Rzhetsky), and William Martin.