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Taken inthis image is the first X-ray picture of DNAwhich led to the discovery of its molecular structure by Watson and Crick. Created by Rosalind Franklin using a technique called X-ray crystallography, it revealed the helical shape of the DNA molecule. Watson and Crick realized that DNA was made up of two chains of nucleotide pairs that encode the genetic information for all living things.
Photo of x-ray crystallography Exposure 51 courtesy of King's College Archives. King's College London. Click for larger image.
The Discovery of DNA's Structure: They were hardly modest, these two brash young scientists who in declared to patrons of the Eagle Pub in Cambridge, England, that they had "found the secret of life. The stunning find made possible the era of "new biology" that led to the biotechnology industry and, most recently, the deciphering of the human genetic blueprint. Watson and Crick's discovery didn't come out of the blue. As early as Oswald Avery proved what had been suspected: that DNA, a nucleic acid, carries genetic information.
But no one knew how it worked. By the early s, at least two groups were hot on the trail.
Crick, a British graduate student, and Watson, an American research fellow, were in the hunt at Cambridge University. Wilkins and Franklin used X-ray diffraction as their main tool -- beaming X-rays through the molecule yielded a shadow picture of the molecule's structure, by how the X-rays bounced off its component parts.
Franklin, a shy and inward young woman, suffered from patronizing attitudes and sexism that forced her to do much of her work alone.
And her senior partner, Wilkins, showed some of Franklin's findings to Watson in January without her knowledge. Referring to Franklin's X-ray image known as "Exposure 51," James Watson is reported to have said, "The instant I saw the picture, my mouth fell open and my pulse began to race.
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This structure, announced in their famous paper in the April issue of Nature, explained how the DNA molecule could replicate itself during cell division, enabling organisms to reproduce themselves with amazing accuracy except for occasional mutations.
Despite her contribution to the discovery of DNA's helical structure, Rosalind Franklin was not named a prize winner: She had died of cancer four years earlier, at the age of Topics Covered: Evolution Since Darwin. They were hardly modest, these two brash young scientists who in declared to patrons of the Eagle Pub in Cambridge, England, that they had "found the secret of life.
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