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The Double Helix Essay

James Watson accounts all the events of his career that occurred during 1950 to 1953, which led to the discovery of structure of the DNA in his famous piece of science writing called “The Double Helix”. In his book, James Watson describes how he and Francis Crick discovered the structure of the deoxyribose nucleic acid (DNA) that leads to the major themes of this book, which is nature of scientific discovery. Watson describes his and Crick’s search for a simple explanation of DNA, which is made difficult by the poor communications amongst the scientists.

The book starts of with the introduction of the main characters, which includes Francis Crick, Max Perutz, Maurice Wilkins, Rosalind Franklin, Sir Lawrence Bragg and Linus Pauling. Each of these characters has played a significant role in inspiring Watson’s discovery. Sir Lawrence Bragg was the director of the Cavendish lab, where Watson and Crick did their research and he was the founder of the crystallography. Erwin Chargaff was an Australian born biochemist that discovered the four bases paring of the DNA. Francis Crick who was Watson’s colleague in the discovering the structure of the DNA is described to be very outspoken and bright.

Rosalind Franklin also called Rosy was Maurice Wilkin’s assistant who was trained in crystallography. Maurice Wilkins was physicist turned biologist who studied the molecular structure of the DNA at University of London’s King’s College. He was the first person that inspired Watson in his research of molecular structure of the DNA. Linus Pauling is a chemist at Cal Tech, California who studied the structure of the DNA and was Watson and Cricks greatest rival in discovering the molecular structure of the DNA. Max Perutz was also a chemist who worked at Cavendish lab and was in charge of the area where Watson and Crick did their research.

In class we have studied that Erwin Chargaff ‘s two rules on base paring which include that the number of purines (Guanine and Adenine) is equal to the number of pyrimidine (Cytosine, Uracil (in RNA), and Thymine (in DNA)) and that the number of T’s and A’s in DNA and the number of C’s and G’s in DNA are equal and Franklin-Wilkins research on the X-ray scattering which suggested that the molecule was helical in nature, helped Watson and Crick in discovering the molecular structure of the DNA which is also discussed in this book.

During his early years, Watson worked with Herman Kalckar who was a biochemist at Copenhagen. During his visit to Italy, Watson saw an x-ray diffraction picture of DNA by Maurice Wilkins that inspired his interest in DNA. His interest in genes and DNA made Watson to move to Cambridge University, in England where he teams up with Francis Crick in finding the structure of the DNA. Their lack of skills in crystallography made Watson and Crick ask help from Maurice and Rosalind at Kings College in getting pictures of the DNA. They all worked together to compete with Linus Pauling.

Watson attended a lecture by Rosalind Franklin at which Franklin states her theory that the DNA molecule has a sugar phosphate backbone on the outside and that the molecule has a helix shape. Watson didn’t take notes on Franklin’s lecture and misinforms Crick that the sugar phosphate backbone was on the inside. After a year of research, Watson and Crick presented their model to Wilkins and Franklin, which were immediately rejected. Their failure made Watson and Crick give up their research on DNA, but this did not stop Watson and Crick to think about their interest. As the time goes on, Crick works on his PhD while Watson does research on tobacco mosaic virus (TMV).

Linus Pauling’s son Peter Pauling arrives at the Cavendish lab and becomes friends with Watson and Crick. In late 1952, Linus Pauling sends two copies of his paper for Bragg and Peter. Watson and Crick went over Linus Pauling’s paper and realized that his paper was wrong. Watson stated that the “nucleic acid was not an acid at all, without the hydrogen atoms the chain would immediately fly apart and the structure will vanish” and he confirmed with other colleagues who also supported Watson and Crick.

Watson and Crick resume their positions in finding the molecular structure of the DNA. They perform various experiments before finalizing a model with the correct sequencing of the four nitrogen bases in DNA strand and confirms it with Wilkins from Franklin’s X-ray photo that DNA is a helix. Finally Watson and Crick publish their results in 1953 and the book ends by describing Franklin’s struggle with cancer and commends her for ‘‘working on a high level until a few weeks before her death.’’ The double helix is a great account of the journey in discovering the molecular structure of DNA. Watson has been really honest through out the book and has given credit to those who have inspired him in his research.


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