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On 25 april 1953 the prestigious journal "Nature" published one of its "letter contributions" (remarkably short scientific papers) signed by James Watson and Francis Crick.

It was one of the most momentous papers of the modern era, proposing a structure for the chemical, DNA (Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid), which composes the hereditary material of all living cellular organisms. It proposed the - now well-known - double helix structure.

Few remember that this paper was published without its authors undertaking a single experiment. Instead, the experiments underpinning their models were undertaken over the previous three years in the Strand basement laboratories of the Medical Research Council Biophysics Unit at King's. (This is not to suggest that their models were not the result of significant inspiration and insight, just that they were based on data, that was being produced elsewhere in the UK).

The prime movers in obtaining the data at King's were Professor Maurice Wilkins, who had commenced pilot studies on the use of X-rays to analyse DNA structure, and Dr Rosalind Franklin, a Fellow who arrived at King's in January 1951, and who advanced the X-ray resolution of DNA structure to a new level of clarity and sophistication.

Their data were published alongside the Watson and Crick paper but because neither provided a compelling model for DNA structure, they have often been overlooked.

In 1962 Wilkins shared the Nobel Prize with Watson and Crick but Franklin had tragically died a few years earlier at the age of 37.

Today one often reads press stories that refer only to Watson and Crick, and of Cambridge, and make no mention of King's. The double helix rapidly became an icon of science, aesthetically beautiful, and stunning in its capacity to explain how DNA is replicated in order to transmit the genetic material to the next generation.

Rosalind Franklin was responsible for much of the research and discovery work that led to the understanding of the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA. The story of DNA is a tale of competition and intrigue, told one way in James Watson's book The Double Helix, and quite another in Anne Sayre's study, Rosalind Franklin and DNA. James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins received a Nobel Prize for the double-helix model of DNA in 1962, four years after Franklin's death at age 37 from ovarian cancer.

Rosalind Franklin and DNA
by Anne Sayre
Anyone who read The Double Helix owes it to Franklin to read her story too.


The Double Helix
by J. Watson (Author)

Rosalind Franklin
by Brenda Maddox (Author)




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