DNA 55 years ago

Fifty-five years ago, on February 28, 1953, Francis Crick walked into the Eagle pub in Cambridge, England, and announced that he and James Watson had "found the secret of life." At least that's what Watson remembers; Crick's memory is different. The exact words don't matter that much because the fact is, they had done it.

Earlier that day, the two scientists had pieced together the correct solution to a problem that researchers around the world were racing to solve. They had built a model of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) that showed by its very structure how DNA could be everything they fiercely believed it to be; the carrier of the genetic code and the the key molecule of heredity, developmental biology and evolution.

That's one year after the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Watson and Crick weren't necessarily the smartest scientists in the contest. They weren't the most experienced; their track records in this area of science , in fact, were essentially nonexistent. They didn't even know much about biochemistry.

But despite these dismal odds, they made a discovery that in the over half-century since has transformed science, medicine and much of modern life - though the full impact has yet to be felt.

Brilliant minds and top-notch training aren't necessarily enough to penetrate the secrets of nature. You also need resilience, dogged persistence, plus a fair amount of luck.
  1. obsessed by DNA
  2. The book What is Life?
  3. quantum physics
  4. Life's essential features is the storage and transmission of information
  5. the genetic code that passes from parent to child
  6. complex and compact enough to fit into inside a single cell
  7. this code had to be written at the molecular level
  8. studied viruses, the simplest form of life on the planet
  9. the code should be easy to find "inside the virus"
  10. brilliant experimenting
  11. they spoke about "the gene", but they didn't have a clue what a gene actually is
  12. they wanted to figure out "what it was?"
  13. trying to understand the physical structure of the DNA molecule
  14. with X-rays they "created complex patterns on a piece of photographic film"
  15. the patterns in DNA are hellishly hard to disentangle
  16. the genetic code was somehow tied up in the physical structure of DNA
  17. Wilson realized he needed to understand X-ray diffraction and wanted to join Wilkins in London but never got the opportunity to ask him
They were determined to figure out what genes were...
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