Saturday, February 21, 2009

Anniversary: DNA

On this day in 1953 James Watson and Francis Crick made the breakthrough in establishing the structure of DNA. As the story goes, Watson was arranging cardboard models of the four bases on a desk when he realized that adenine-thymine and guanine-cytosine made equivalent pairs. This realization helped finalize their model of the double helix DNA molecule. Announcing their discovery in Nature, Watson and Crick wrote: "It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material." That humble announcement belied the enormity of their discovery, expressed by Crick in an English pub a week after Watson's revelation, "we have found the secret of life." Watson, Crick and Maurice Wilkins shared the Nobel Prize in 1962. Wilkins's colleague Rosalind Franklin created the DNA x-rays that were essential to the discovery. She also gave important critique to Watson and Crick. In what became a huge controversy, Wilkins gave Watson and Crick access to Franklin's x-ray work without her knowledge. Sadly, Franklin died in 1958 and was ineligible for the Nobel, which is not awarded posthumously.

You can view James Watson's genome here. It's a nice reminder that the true impact of Watson and Crick's discovery is still ahead of us.

(image credit: Watson and Crick's DNA model, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Archives, via nobelprize.org)