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Double helix

the ‘secret of life’ East Anglia,

Hexagonal metal plates connected together by metal rods and arranged helically around a central stand.
Crick and Watson’s DNA molecular model, 1953. Science Museum/ Science & Society Picture Library

Biotechnology, genetic engineering and synthetic biology, all frontiers of research in the 21st century, owe their origins to the work of two Cambridge scientists and their contemporaries at King’s College London. 

James Watson (born 1928) and Francis Crick (1916-2004) began working together in 1951 to discover how DNA passed on genetic information from one generation to the next. The two scientists drew on a range of evidence, using chemical techniques and X-ray crystallography, particularly the work of Rosalind Franklin (1920-58) and Maurice Wilkins (1916-2004). 

After much trial and error they revealed what is now the accepted structure of deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA. By understanding the architecture of DNA, in particular how pairs of genetic ‘letters’ are strung together in a helical ladder, they revealed the language of life and the mechanism of inheritance. In February 1953, Crick bragged in the Eagle pub in Cambridge that they had found ‘the secret of life’. Less than a decade later, in 1962, a Nobel Prize was awarded jointly to Crick, Watson and Wilkins. 

Science Museum

Biology, Chemistry, Physics,
East Anglia
University of Cambridge
Key Individuals
Francis Crick, James Watson, Rosalind Franklin, Maurice Wilkins,