60th anniversary of the discovery of the DNA double-helix

Sixty years ago today, Watson and Crick announced “their” discovery of the structure of DNA.

I put “their” in quotes, because we know that in reality, Watson and Crick had only postulated it was a double helix, while it was Rosalind Franklin that conclusively, definitively, and elegantly proved the structure was a double-helix.  Her data were surreptitiously removed from her lab by a colleague and shown to Watson and Crick without her knowledge or permission.

Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins produce sharp X-ray crystallographic images that prove crucial to solving the puzzle of the molecular structure of DNA.  Photo 51 is the best of the lot. In his best-selling book on the episode, Jim Watson admits to examining the photographs without Franklin’s permission.  Source.

Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins produce sharp X-ray crystallographic images that prove crucial to solving the puzzle of the molecular structure of DNA. Photo 51 is the best of the lot. In his best-selling book on the episode, Jim Watson admits to examining the photographs without Franklin’s permission. Source.

On Monday I stumbled upon this article about a letter that Him Watson wrote to his son Michael about the discovery (it’s being auctioned off in April).  Michael was only 12 at the time, so the description of the structure was interesting to me.

Our structure is very beautiful.  DNA can be thought roughly as a very long chain with flat bits sticking out.  The flat bits are called the “bases”.  The formula is rather like this… Source

So, for an explanation of DNA that a 12 year old could understand (complete with hand drawn diagrams), check out the letter in the New York Times.  To see the letter and read a full transcript, see here.  For more reporting on the story of how it came to be, when it was sent, and such, see here.

And for a quirky and British look at all that our understanding of DNA allows us to do (from identifying kings in car parks to horse meat hamburgers) check out this article.

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