Francis Crick and the Race

10 May
2010

Francis CrickIntroduction

On a typical rainy afternoon in February 1953, Francis Crick walked into his local pub in Cambridge, England, and announced, “We have found the secret of life.”

That morning, Crick and his principal research partner, James Watson, had figured out the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Specifically, the fact that this structure, a “double helix,” could “unzip” to make copies of itself confirmed the suspicion that DNA carried life’s hereditary information. For this research, James D. Watson and Francis H. Crick shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology in 1962 with Maurice H. Wilkins. The now famous statement— “We wish to suggest a structure for the salt of deoxyribose nucleic acid (DNA); this structure has novel features which are of considerable biological interest”—has proved to be the foundation of modern-day genetics research and medicinal biotechnology.
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This effort was the intersection of a determination and inspired research, passionate science, and plain old good luck, leading to a discovery that has since been established as the key to today’s molecular biology and modern biotechnology. Using information derived from a number of other scientists, whose contributions I will later highlight, and working on parallel aspects of the chemistry and structure of DNA, Watson and Crick were able to assemble the information, like pieces of a puzzle, to produce their model of the structure of DNA.

It was at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University in England where they finally met. Crick and others soon realized their common interest in the nature of the “genetic material.” Despite other research relating to transformation experiments, scientists were still debating whether proteins or DNA constituted the genetic material, even without knowing the identity of the molecule.

Crick, now teamed with Watson, was among those who thought that nucleic acids were the key to hereditary transfer. With the other work having been completed in 1952 (and with limited access to those findings), they became surer of this assumption. They both wanted to determine the structure of DNA and hoped this would lead to a deeper understanding of how life was propagated.
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Francis Crick died in July of this year, and now may be a good time to briefly reflect on the accomplishments and contributions of this exceptional scientist and the role that others played in his research. I will attempt to showcase some of the more relevant discoveries and experiences that contributed to Crick’s thinking, and how this “race to discovery” could have easily been won by any number of teams, had circumstances been shifted ever so slightly.

Francis Crick

Francis Crick was born on June 8, 1916, in Northampton, England. At age 18, he enrolled at University College in London, where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in physics in 1937. In 1947, he began his doctorate work at the Strangeways Laboratory in Cambridge. Two years later, he joined the Medical Research Unit at Cavendish Laboratory, where he worked on protein structure and performed his doctorate studies in x-ray diffraction of proteins.

Soon thereafter, Crick joined James Watson in an attempt to uncover the structure of DNA. Crick brought to the project his knowledge of x-ray diffraction, whereas Watson brought knowledge of phage and bacterial genetics. In 1953, Crick and Watson published the first of their four papers about this discovery in the April 25 edition of the journal Nature.
Although Crick is best known for his work on the discovery of the double helix, he made many other discoveries afterwards. After his discovery of the double helix, he went on to study the relationship between DNA and genetic coding. During this course of study, his team discovered the function of the genetic material in determining the specificity of proteins. Crick not only established the basic genetic code but also predicted the mechanism of protein synthesis. This work led to many discoveries about ribonucleic acid (RNA) and DNA and helped to create the DNA/RNA dictionary.

In 1976, Crick finally left Cambridge Laboratories to become a nonresident fellow at Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California. It was there that Crick began his project of the study of the brain. Apcalis Oral Jelly

Francis Crick won many awards and acknowledgments after his discovery of DNA in 1953. The most popular of these awards was the 1962 Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology that he shared with Watson and Wilkins. The trio also won the 1960 Albert Lasker Award. Crick also won the 1962 Gardener Foundation Award, the 1972 Royal Society’s Royal Medal, and the 1976 Royal Society’s Copley Medal.

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