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HSC Assessment

2 Unit Biology

Franklin, Watson, Crick and Wilkins:


The Story Behind Unravelling the Structure of DNA
The unravelling of the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the molecule of life,
is considered by some to be one of the biggest biological breakthroughs of the 20 th
Century. The double helix structure, consisting of phosphates, a deoxyribose sugar and
paired nitrogenous bases, provided biologists with a way of explaining many of the
processes occurring within organisms, from replication to protein synthesis.
Although this current model is widely referred to as the Watson and Crick model,
historical records show that there were in fact four main players in uncovering the
structure of DNA:
1. James Watson: Together with Crick, Watson suggested the helical structure of
DNA. Watson and Crick also suggested that the purine bases (adenine and
guanine) paired up with the pyridimine bases (thymine and cytosine). They came
to this conclusion based on quantitative information they had about these bases;
that the amount of adenine always equalled the amount of thymine and the same
with cytosine and guanine. They obtained this information from the
chromatographic separation techniques performed by American chemist Erwin
Chargaff.
2. Francis Crick: After unravelling the structure of DNA, he went on to study how
DNA functioned in cells. He researched the way how the message contained
within DNA is translated into action in the cell.
3. Rosalind Franklin: Although Watson and Crick created the model for DNA, the
information they used to create this model came largely from the work of
Copyright 2006; Ahmad Shah Idil

HSC Assessment

2 Unit Biology

Rosalind Franklin. A highly acclaimed expert in the technical field of X-ray


crystallography, she applied her techniques onto fibres of DNA obtained by
Wilkins and obtained a large amount of information from this work. Her most
famous image of DNA, Photo 51, was one of the clearest images of DNA created
in that time. It was by using this photo that Watson and Crick created their model.
Her career ended when she died at the young age of 37 due to ovarian cancer.
Some say it was due to her work with radiation and X-rays. Sexism during this
time prevented her from gaining recognition for her work.
4. Wilkins: Was researching the structure of large molecules. Provided Franklin with
DNA fibres. Obtained Photo 51 from Franklin without her permission and gave it
to Watson and Crick.
Although Watson and Crick closely collaborated with each other, and were able to
produce good results together, Wilkins and Franklin (who worked in the same lab) did not
have a good relationship. Their lack of communication with each other, together with
Wilkins and other males patronising attitude towards Franklin significantly slowed down
progress on determining the structure of DNA.
Had all these scientists respected each other and decided to work together, their
task would have been completed earlier. Rosalind Franklin was not provided recognition
for her work on DNA when Crick, Watson and Wilkins were given the Nobel Prize.

Bibliography:

Heinemann Biology Mudie & Brotherton: Pg 305

HSC Biology Alford & Hill: Pg 44

Genetics and Evolution Jill Bailey: Pg 55

Copyright 2006; Ahmad Shah Idil

HSC Assessment

2 Unit Biology

Biology Principles and Processes Roberts, Reiss and Monger: Pg 712 - 714

Copyright 2006; Ahmad Shah Idil