Scientist holds DNA helix

Some ideas seem so obvious and make so much sense that you’d think they’ve been around for millennia. But it’s amazing how fast science has developed in the last two centuries. The steps we’ve taken may seem so obvious that you can’t imagine a world without them, but you’d be surprised. These five scientific assumptions and discoveries are more recent than you might imagine.

1. Structure of DNA

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In 1953 we learned that DNA was a double helix, a twisted ladder structure that would be called deoxyribonucleic acid. James Watson and Francis Crick’s discovery would change history and usher in a new field of study called molecular biology. For the first time, we understood that our genes control many of the processes in the body. Researchers already knew that a gene is the smallest form of genetic information, but they still didn’t know what the structure looked like.

2. Discovery of penicillin

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Antibiotics changed the face of humanity by preventing the destruction of a common bacterial infection. But in reality, they are a relatively new phenomenon. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928, less than a century ago, at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. He realized that his petri dishes were contaminated with a mold called Penicillin notatumand under the microscope the mold inhibited the growth of the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. It took him a few more weeks to realize that this mold could be used to prevent infectious diseases.

Read more: Antibiotic-resistant bacteria: what they are and how scientists are fighting them

3. Theory of tectonic plates

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It’s hard to imagine a world without it plate tectonics — the idea that the Earth’s crust is made up of huge tectonic plates that have been in motion for billions of years. Without tectonic plates, the Earth’s continents would be at a standstill, and it would be impossible to imagine that 200 million years ago, the supercontinent of Pangea existed.

But all that changed thanks to James Morgan. In 1967, he discovered the now widely accepted concept of plate tectonics. The young geologist understood that the lithospheric plates that make up the Earth slide past each other and create motion.

4. Pluto: The dwarf planet

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On February 18, 1930, astronomers first discovered the planet Pluto. Clyde W. Tombaugh discovered it at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. Astronomers have long believed that a ninth planet exists because of the way the two planets, Uranus and Neptune, wobble as they orbit. But it wasn’t until Tombo devised a new method of using a blinking microscope that he was finally able to pinpoint the planet.

However, in August 2006, Pluto was downgraded from a planet to a dwarf planet. Although it meets two criteria needed to be considered a planet, it does not meet the third. It is round and orbits the sun, but its gravity is not strong enough to remove all objects from its orbit. Still, the decision is widely controversial among scholars.

5. The invention of anesthesia

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It is one of the most important inventions in history because it helped people deal with pain. This matters because going under the knife is much more traumatic if you are awake. Anesthesia was invented in 1846 by the famous Massachusetts General Hospital surgeon John Collins Warren and dentist William T. G. Morton. They proved that inhaled ether could safely and effectively provide anesthesia during surgery. Since then, we’ve perfected the art of anesthesia using IV drugs that have shortened patient recovery times.

Read more: Here’s how anesthesia affects your brain

It is hard to imagine life before the invention and discoveries of DNA structures, penicillin, plate tectonics and more. But there was a time when this knowledge was not known. It took a beautiful mind to develop these concepts that we so heavily depend on in our daily lives today, and we shouldn’t take these innovations for granted.

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