October 06, 2004

We've all heard of Watson and Crick. Who knew about this guy? DNA pioneer Maurice Wilkins died yesterday at the age of 88. One of three Nobel laureates for his work in helping discover the helical structure of DNA, Wilkins is probably the least known of the four people who were most responsible for describing DNA as we know it.

Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) died of cancer before the importance of her work was recognized, and the Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously. Francis Crick (1916-2004) died in July. James Watson is the only one of the three Nobel laureates still living. Franklin I've heard of. Biology texts like to point out how the importance of her work was largely ignored or minimized by others. Probably true that being female didn't help her gain recognition, but i'm sure it's safe to say that she would have shared in the 1962 prize had she lived. Wilkins on the other hand is a name I hadn't encountered prior to today. He was by all accounts a private individual. Wilkins only recently penned an autobiography explaining his part of the story. Watson (for comparison) had his side of the story in print by 1968.

  • As an evolutionary biologist, it is really sad to see the deaths of those whose work helped paved the way to the research we are doing today.
  • clf - If Franklin had lived, I don't know what they would have done, because I have heard that the Nobel prize cannot be split 4 ways (nor given post-humously). Can anyone confirm/deny?
  • From this site on Alfred Nobel and the prize it looks like it could be any number of people.
  • I recommend "The Double Helix", Watson's memoir of the events and scientific thinking that let to their proposal of the double helix as the model for the structure of DNA. Note, though, that his portrayal of "the girl" (Franklin) is steeped in 50s sexism. But it's a great read that illuminates how science is (still) actually done.
  • Never heard of this guy. Thanks, frogs!
  • Anne Sayre wrote a great book on Rosalind Franklin, who I think was the most ignored of the four until the 1970s. Rosalind Franklin and DNA is also subtitled: A vivid view of what it is like to be a gifted woman in an especially male profession.