DNA, abbreviation of deoxyribonucleic acid, organic chemical of complex molecular structure that is found in all prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells and in many viruses. DNA codes genetic information for the transmission of inherited traits. The chemical DNA was first discovered in 1869, but its role in genetic inheritance was not demonstrated until 1943. In 1953 James Watson and Francis Crick, aided by the work of biophysicists Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins, determined that the structure of DNA is a double-helix polymer, a spiral consisting of two DNA strands wound around each other. The breakthrough led to significant advances in scientists’ understanding of DNA replication and hereditary control of cellular activities.