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Frances Crick (1916 – 2004) and James Watson (1928 to present)

Molecular biology, structure of DNA

Watson and Crick cracked the puzzle of life by solving the puzzle of the structure of the DNA- the building blocks of every living organism.

It seems strange that two scientists so different in background, education and age (Crick was 12 years older to Watson), teamed up to solve one of molecular biology’s greatest discoveries.

Frances Crick was born in England on the 8th of June 1916 from an early age was interested in science which he used to learn from reading books.

At the age of 12 years, he refused to go to church with his family, saying that he preferred to read and study science to find answers over believing religion.

He learned mathematics, physics, biology, and chemistry very well and started with a career in physics.

He was studying the viscosity (the thickness) of water at high temperatures during the World War II, and never studied physics again after a bomb fell on the laboratory and destroyed all his work.

It was after this event that Crick began studying biology. In his journey, he met many great scientists including Maurice Wilkins a researcher King’s College London.

James Dewey Watson was born on the 6th of April 1928 in Chicago, at the same time that 12-year-old Crick refused to go to church and study science instead.

Watson was the only son of tax collector James D. Watson and his wife Jean Mitchell. Although he was brought up a Catholic he too, like Crick did not believe in God.

He was a bright and intelligent student who was fascinated with bird watching, a habit he picked up from his father.

This made him want to study ornithology, the scientific study of birds, and enrolled at the University of Chicago at just 15 years.

However, like Crick starting out in physics, Watson’s future in ornithology was not to be.

In 1946, at the age of 18 he switched subjects, and started studying genetics instead, after reading the book What is Life? By Erwin Schrödinger.

At 23 years, Watson met researcher Maurice Wilkins who showed him a picture of DNA under a special x-ray.

Watson observed in this picture a regular patter that to him seemed to be repeated. He joined the Cavendish Laboratory in England to learn more.

It was here that he finally met his future science partner Francis Crick. They shared an office at the institute and started experimenting on DNA.

DNA is an acronym for Deoxyribonucleic acid which is a nucleic acid that carries the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all living organisms.

DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes. These genes are what carry information that makes us “look like” our parents, grand parents or siblings.

Furthermore, DNA is sort of like a code that is used to duplicate identical cells and allows us to reproduce (which makes us have some of the characteristics of others in our family).

Crick first acted as Watson’s teacher because Crick had a head-start in the process, but soon Watson caught on, and they became the first to propose the actual design of DNA.

This structure is a ‘double helix’ that looks like a spiral staircase, and the mechanism fitted with all the past data that they had collected.

It was this discovery that made Crick walk into a local pub with Watson and announce to everyone there, “We have found the secret of life”

In 1962, Watson and Crick were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology.

Watson’s and Crick’s careers took different paths after this great discovery, and both of them influenced the study of biology and its students in many ways.

Crick died of colon cancer on the 28th of July 2004, he was cremated and his ashes were scattered over the Pacific Ocean. His long time friend, and colleague, James Watson spoke at his funeral, along with many other great personalities.

Watson, at age 84 is still alive, and has taken an interest in the genetics and origins of mental illness after his son was diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder.