Friday, April 25, 2014


In college I studied biology and now I teach biology at the high school level.
Inside, I am a geek.
Major geek.
A creative geek none-the-less, but still a geek.
And today, for us biology geeks,
is a very notible day.
DNA Day.
On this day in 1953, Watson and Crick
the 2 guys you see here-
published their  paper in Nature outlining their "discovery"
about how DNA is constructed.
I say discovery in quotes because it is questionable if they
actually discovered anything.
They just used other people's information to figure out how the DNA molecule
was configured.
Here are the 4 main players in this story.
(There are a few others, but for the sake of a blog post versus a novel, I shall leave it to these 4.)
James D. Watson (far left) and American who was working with Francis Crick (not so far left) at Cambridge University. These are the guys who made the model.
The 2 on the right are Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin, who both worked at Kings College London. There were some not so pleasant "issues" between those 2 in the x-ray crystallography lab. They just did not get along with each other and Rosalind was a woman in a very old fashioned man's world. She couldn't even join her co-worker's in the lounge as it was for men only, yet she was a woman scientist with a PhD and some very very impressive credits to her name.  Rosalind took a very distinctive photo

which shows that DNA, the stuff of our genes, has a double helical shape.
(For those you you who may be saying Huh?, helical means a spiral-like shape. You can tell this is a spiral because if you can picture looking down from above onto a spiral, you would get this X like shape where each part of the double spiral cross. That's a very simplistic description, but again, for the sake of simplicity, I'll leave it there.)
Somehow Wilkins got a hold of the photo.
He passed it on Watson, quite innocently perhaps.
Or maybe not.
But he had the photo and he showed it to Watson.
This allowed Watson and Crick to build their famous model, write their paper which was published today in 1953 in Nature, and to become known as the men who discovered the structure of DNA.
Wilkins gets credited too, as he was working at one point on DNA xray crystallography, and Franklin does get credit also, although I don't know if she ever really realized what role she played since she left Kings College and then shortly after that died from cancer in the late 1950's. She was very young- if my memory serves me right like 37 or 38. Both Wilkins and Franklin also published papers along with the Watson and Crick artical- all 3 were published together. Unfortunately Watson published a best selling book about this event called the Double Helix in the 1960's which didn't portray Rosalind Franklin very nicely. This in turn started the whole idea that Franklin was not given the credit she deserved, and now there's a whole bunch of science geeks like me who are very much in credit in giving this lady the credit she deserves. Afterall, neither Watson nor Crick could have built there model without her photo.
For a couple of good films on this science history- the BBC put out the film race for the Double Helix in the 1970's with Jeff Goldbloom and also there's a Nova documentary called The Secret of Photo 51. (The photo I showed you above was photo 51.)
And then there's bibliographies of all these people-
if you really want to geek out.
Personally, I think its a great story.
But then as I have told you like 50 times already today-
I can be pretty geeky.

Thanks for visiting-
and remember,
you wouldn't be who you are without your deoxyribonucleic acid!
(Or DNA)

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