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DNA: Background to a Historical Discovery

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Seventy years ago, biochemists James Watson (1928) and Francis Crick (1916-2004) first taught the structure of our DNA. The two scientists at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory are still today DNA masters par excellence, but few people know that this intuition paid off thanks to the two’s strong rivalry and some stumbles. Let’s get acquainted with the background of this historical discovery through the article “Science comes in two partsGiuliana Lomazzi, taken from the archives Focus on history.

Nobel model. A few days after the first hunch, on March 7, 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick built a model of wire and cardboard that made history: it was the first representation of the structure of DNA, one of the major discoveries of twentieth-century biology. The brilliant duo consisted of American biochemist Watson, 23, and English molecular biologist Crick, 35. They met at the end of 1951 at the Physics Department of the University of Cambridge, one of whom was responsible for the study of myoglobin and the other hemoglobin, but they were only interested in the structure of DNA and wanted to know it at any cost.

love hate It was this strong common interest that made them a winning team, with unaddressed common traits that Crick summarized as: youthful arrogance, ruthlessness, and impatience. The two admired and criticized each other. Fellow, Watson wrote in 1968 in his book double helix On the back of research, he treated him like a younger brother and certainly did not err in modesty.

race for four. Working on DNA should have been two colleagues from King’s College London: Rosalind Franklin, a leading biochemist in X-ray crystallography, and Maurice Wilkins, a molecular biologist whose colleague was only her assistant (and therefore preferred to work alone). The two run many trials, slowing the race, unlike Crick and Watson who use data from an unclassified report by Franklin to finish the race first, without warning her.

Nobel Health. They also took advantage of an X-ray (the so-called Photo 51), which Wilkins secretly showed them. Hence the brilliant intuition that led to victory. In 1962 they were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine with Wilkins—but not with Franklin, who died in 1958 at the age of 37, and for whom Crick acknowledged a debt. After the discovery, the duo took different paths, while maintaining their friendship.

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