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Famous biologists: Watson and Crick

Famous biologists: Watson and Crick

Who were they?

Francis Crick started out as physicist but after World War II he decided to study biology.
James Watson was awarded a PhD. when he was just 22. He was fascinated by molecular biology, and became convinced that the gene could only be understood after something was known about nucleic acid molecules.

The two men began working together in 1951. They shared an interest in the problem of learning how genetic information was stored inside our cells. Like most scientists, Watson and Crick followed their share of false trails. They already knew that DNA codes are made up of four bases: adenine, guanine, thymine or cytosine. The crucial problem centred around how the four bases could fit together within the molecule.

Solving the puzzle

At first they used cardboard cut-outs to experiment with models to see how DNA was structured. Later they used metal plates, brass rods and screws. Finally in 1953 they understood that a DNA molecule looks like a flexible ladder to form the now well-known double helix.

They also understood that it is the exact sequence of the four bases along the inside of the ladder that tells the genetic story. Watson and Crick's realised that because of its size, shape and chemical makeup, each base on one side of the ladder could pair up with only one other base on the other side of the ladder.

What did they do next?

Crick continued working in molecular biology but in 1977 started researching the brain.
Watson helped direct the Human Genome Project, a project to map and decipher all the genes in the human chromosomes. In early 2007 Watson's own genome was sequenced and made publicly available on the Internet.

Top quotes

"We’ve discovered the secret of life."

"Science moves with the spirit of an adventure characterized both by youthful arrogance and by the belief that the truth, once found, would be simple as well as pretty."