Who Discovered DNA?
The discovery of deoxyribonucleic acid, more commonly known as DNA, has been the foundation for much scientific work. This fundamental discovery was credited to James Watson and Francis Crick. Many people believe that another person, Rosalind Franklin, also played a large role in the research. How much did she contribute to the discovery? Why is her name left unrecognized? This paper will discuss her part in the search and whether her name should appear next to Watson's and Crick's as the co-discoverer of DNA. In the early 1950s, the race to find the structure of DNA was in full swing. The search was being conducted at three different colleges. At the California Institute of Technology, Linus Pauling, one of the best physical chemists at that time, proposed his first DNA model, which was based more on common sense rather than mathematical reasoning [Judson, 1986]. Although he was interested in DNA, he didn't seem to realize the importance of the "golden gene" [Watson, 1968]. He was behind scientists in England as a result of not being in close contact with them. At the Cavendish in Cambridge, England, Watson and Crick were studying together. Watson was doing postdoctoral work, and Crick was working toward his doctorate. Their assignment was finding the structure of hemoglobin, not DNA. At King's College in London, Maurice Wilkins was also trying to study the DNA molecule. His professor and he agreed that they needed an x-ray specialist to aid them in their search. Rosalind Franklin was the specialist whom they chose to bring to King's College because she could make excellent x-ray despite using poor equipment ["Tribute," 1987]. In 1951, Watson attended a lecture that Franklin was giving to her co-workers on her work thus far with DNA. There on an invitation from Wilkins, he "stared at her pop-eyed and wrote down nothing" [Judson, 1986]. Two weeks later, Watson and Crick announced that they had completed a model of DNA. Franklin and a group of her colleagues traveled to Cambridge to see this model. When Franklin saw it, she all but laughed out loud. Watson had based this model on a value that he had remembered from her lecture along with his and Crick's previous knowledge of DNA, but the value of that he "remembered" was wrong. Watson's lapse of memory resulted in an impossible model that caused a great deal of embarrassment to Watson, Crick, and the rest of their staff. After this incident, the professor at Cavendish told Watson and Crick to drop the search for the DNA structure because the search belonged to the scientists at King's. To the south, things were not going well at King's. Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin had been arguing since the day she arrived there. According to an article in Science Digest by Horace Freeland Judson , "Wilkins told her that the strong cross suggested that the molecule was helix. She told him that he was jumping to conclusions." Eventually, Franklin simply shut Wilkins out of her work and she worked alone. Although she didn't realize it then, this inability to get along with Wilkins was a major factor in Watson and Crick's success. Wilkins took his frustrations to an old friend, Francis Crick. He soon became good friends with Watson, too. They became so close that Wilkins was eventually passing on Franklin's information to Watson [Judson, 1986]. In one such case, Watson was visiting King's and had a confrontation with Franklin. When he started to lecture her on helical structures, she became very upset. A serious argument was about to break out when Wilkins walked in and escorted Watson out of the room. Wilkins took Watson down the hall and led him into another room where he showed Waston a copy of Franklin's latest and best x-ray of DNA. Franklin had no idea that this transaction, in which a vital piece of information was given away, ever took place. Franklin inadvertently gave away other information. Not long before her run-in with Watson,...
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