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Guide The Double Helix

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In human history, without exaggeration, nothing would ever be the same again.


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Watson arrived at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge University, during the autumn of looking for success, fame and the love of women. He was brash, brilliant and American; a graduate zoologist from the mid-west who dreamed of winning the Nobel prize. Watson, as arrogant as he was obscure, found himself working with an equally self-possessed but somewhat overlooked older man at the Cavendish, Francis Crick, a year-old would-be biophysicist who had seen service as a scientist in the second world war.

Most people thought he talked too much. It was here that they would chew over the science issues of the day.

The convoluted history of the double-helix

Crick and Watson both knew that the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid DNA and its role in human heredity was the unconquered Everest of contemporary biochemistry. Research teams in London, Europe and California had been struggling with this mystery for at least a decade. It was the postwar science story. From to , Crick and Watson embarked on a race for immortality.

They faced formidable but flawed competition. But Pauling, despite massive resources, was prone to catastrophic errors. Could Crick and Watson, two carpetbaggers from the Cavendish, acquire enough data to begin the advanced thought-experiment required to demonstrate and verify the structure of DNA?

Watson, the inevitable protagonist of The Double Helix , managed to get himself invited to a Franklin lecture in London and saw at once that her x-ray crystallography work held the key to the mystery of DNA. With hindsight, Franklin was too close to her research to grasp its significance.

The Double Helix

She was also mired in a toxic professional relationship with Wilkins, her boss. Subsequently, a full-blown biography by Brenda Maddox, subtitled The Dark Lady of DNA , has described the degree to which Franklin, who died from ovarian cancer in , had perhaps unwittingly established the context of the work that Crick and Watson would develop and conclude so triumphantly.

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The Francis Crick Papers: The Discovery of the Double Helix,

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