On This Date 1953
April 25, 1953: Riddle of DNA’s Architecture Finally Solved
James Watson and Francis Crick present their research in Nature, describing the architecture of the double helix, which forms the molecular structure of DNA.
Although by then scientists understood that deoxyribonucleic acid was most likely the molecule of life, absolute certainty eluded them, because key components were still missing. Chiefly, they didn’t really know what the DNA molecule looked like.
Many, among them Linus Pauling, were actively engaged in DNA research and a number of structural theories were advanced, all of them wrong in varying degrees. When Watson and Crick finally solved the puzzle, the key was provided by an X-ray diffraction photograph of a DNA molecule — the so-called “photograph 51” — taken by another researcher, Rosalind Franklin.
Franklin’s photograph revealed a fuzzy X in the center, confirming that the molecule had a helical structure, allowing it to carry genetic code and pass genetic material through generations. Combining this with their other research, Watson and Crick concluded that the DNA molecule was a double helix and not a triple, as the prevailing wisdom held.
For their work, Watson and Crick shared the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with another DNA researcher, Maurice Wilkins.
Rosalind Franklin received … nothing. She’d died of cancer in 1958, at age 37, and the Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously.