the Structure of DNA |
Watson (b. 1928) and Francis Crick (b. 1916)
in any discipline are built upon the work and ideas of many. The structure of
DNA-the basis for genetic engineering and "Genetown" -is one example.
1962 James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins shared the Nobel Prize in
medicine for their discovery of the molecular structure of DNA, a double helix
that contains life's hereditary information. By then James Watson was at Harvard
influencing a generation of researchers and writing his controversial book about
their discovery, The Double Helix, which was first published in 1968.
was an American working in Britain who had started out in ornithology, left birds
for viruses, then was attracted to the race to discover the formation of DNA.
The respected American chemist Linus Pauling was considered the front-runner.
At 35, Crick had not completed his Ph.D. and had wandered from physics into chemistry
and biology. Crick and Watson shared an indifference to scientific boundaries,
and a brash impatience with the opinions of others, and authority. Working in
the same lab at Cambridge University, they formed an intellectual collaboration
that was extraordinary.
At the same time, at King's College in London,
Rosalind Franklin, with the new technique of x-ray crystallography, had discovered
that the sugar- phosphate backbone of DNA lies on the outside of the molecule
and clarified the basic helical structure of DNA. Unfortunately, this brilliant
woman died of cancer at age 37, and the Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously.
Maurice Wilkins, her colleague, was also working on DNA and showed the unpublished
picture to Watson without Franklin's consent. Franklin and Wilkins disliked one
another, so the flow of ideas in that lab was stifled.
and Crick were putting together all the pieces on 3-D models. They wrote their
findings in the journal Nature, ending with their famous understatement: "It has
not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately
suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material."
Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA
by James Watson, 2001