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The race to solve the structure of DNA

How did Watson and Crick win this race? Who else was involved and what were their contributions?

Amanda Simcox

on 21 October 2018

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Transcript of The race to solve the structure of DNA

the contenders
Crick (1916-2004) and Watson (1928-)
Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)
Maurice Wilkins (1916-2004)
Linus Pauling (1901-1994)
the clue
Chargaff's ratios
the approaches
x ray
photo 51
a critical piece of data
wins the race!
The double helix
the prize
'thinking about the alpha helix' led to the DNA triple helix...oops!
And so began the race to determine the structure of DNA- the quest for the biggest prize in biology.......
shared by Watson, Crick and Wilkins
In 1952 Hershey and Chase finally convinced the world that DNA was the genetic material.
Martha Chase
Alfred Hershey
Until 1952 the 'smart' money was on protein, for its complexity-
despite the careful work of Griffith and then Avery and colleagues showing that DNA not protein conferred a pathological genotype to bacteria
DNA is the genetic material
What a story!
Where Cox and I parted ways was his attribution of all this talent to some sort of essential Britishness. Remember Newton? He was British. Cavendish? As British as they come. The Large Hadron Collider? Technically, it's under the Franco-Swiss border and the scientists involved come from all over the world, but Science Britannica was determined to claim that for Queen and Country too. "Britain," said Cox, "has arguably had a greater influence on how science is done than any other nation." Fine, but can we give all the flag waving a rest now, please? (Independent, ELLEN E JONES Thursday 26 September 2013)

Do the British care about science?
Biological roots:
The race to solve the structure of DNA

the King's College group London
Images and text from
Francis Crick in 2001: "It is important to remember that all the really relevant experimental work on X-ray diffraction patterns of DNA fibres was done by Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins and their co-workers."
the Cavendish group Cambridge
the Pauling group Caltech, US
Linus Pauling
Robert Corey
Max Perutz
Lawrence Bragg
John Randall
Maurice Wilkins
Raymond Gosling
Philips camera used by Franklin and Gosling and Photo 51
Photography notebook of DNA diffraction experiments, including ones carried out by Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins, 1952
Rosalind Franklin
James Watson and Francis Crick
Crick's letter to his son (12 yrs) sold for $6 million in 2013
People and places
November 1951 Watson attends Franklin's seminar (forgets details!)
Watson and Crick work on triple helix with phosphates on the inside
Wilkins and Franklin invited to view model (Franklin points out flaws!)
Watson and Crick banned from model building!

May 1952 Photo 51 is taken by Gosling and Franklin
Peter Pauling provides copy of Pauling paper with DNA as a triple helix
Wilkins shares photo 51 with Watson (without Franklin's knowledge)
Model building resumes

February 1953
Watson tests like with like (A-A etc)
Perutz shares report on King's group research with Crick and Watson, which has measurements.
(27th) Donahue tells Watson (again) they are using wrong form of bases (enol). They exist in the keto form.
(28th) Watson first tries keto form 'like to like'
then A-T and C-G and sees the same shape in the pairs!
fits with Chargaff ratios
Crick and Watson head to the Eagle and Crick announces they 'had found the secret of life'

April 1953 (25th)
the three 'DNA' papers are published in Nature

heartthrob scientist- Brian Cox
An overview of the story.
Jerry Donahue (keto bases)
Peter Pauling (a connection to his father, Linus)
John Griffith (nephew of Fred Griffith)
Worked with Crick on the- attraction between bases provided evidence for A-T and C-G
In an epilogue Watson writes; Since my initial impressions about [Franklin], both scientific and personal (as recorded in the early pages of this book) were often wrong I want to say something here about her achievements.The X-ray work she did at King's is increasingly regarded as superb. [Watson admits] realizing years too late the struggles that the intelligent woman faces to be accepted by a scientific world which often regards women as mere diversions from serious thinking. Rosalind's exemplary courage and integrity were apparent to all when, knowing she was mortally ill, she did not complain but continued working on a high level until a few weeks before her death.
Linus in sunny California
Watson and Crick in windy Cambridge
Mendel (1822-1884)
Darwin (1806-1882)
Nobel prize 1954 (chemistry) and 1962 (peace)
fellowship at King's in 1950
obtained new equipment from Wilkins
joined by PhD student Raymond Gosling
her work identified as being crucial to the Watson-Crick double helix
notebooks in February 1953 show she begun to interpret DNA as a double helix
moved to Birkbeck College London 1953 research on viral RNA
perhaps on account of her repeated exposure to radiation she developed ovarian cancer and died in 1958.
heritable and mutable
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