"A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid" Watson, J.D. and Crick, F.H.C. (1953)

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"A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid"
J.D. Watson and F.H.C. Crick (1953)

URL: http://www.nature.com/genomics/human/watson-crick

SITE SUMMARY: This paper, published in the scientific journal Nature, on April 2, 1953, describes conclusions that James Watson and Francis Crick made based on their research involving the structure of deoxyribose nucleic acid (DNA). As a result of this work, Watson and Crick won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In this paper they reveal novel features of the structure.


  1. Read Watson and Crick's paper, then identify the names of the parts or components of DNA, scientifically called deoxyribose nucleic acid. Extra Activity: Give more details about the features of DNA. (Tip: For data, visit the Web sites the DNA Learning Center—Genes in Education [with its "DNA Beginnings" feature], the "Structure of DNA" in the Molecular Biology Notebook Online, DNA Files, and DNA Sciences. [Their urls are cited in the Related Internet Sites section below.])
  2. Study Watson and Crick's paper. What are the features of the "radically different structure" involving DNA components that Watson and Crick suggested? (Hints: Note the diagram; paragraph four, sentences two, four, and five, the second part of six, plus eight and nine, and references to common, plus some metaphoric, words connected to scientific ones.)
  3. See Watson and Crick's paper, paragraph six (sentence one), paragraph seven (the second part of the first sentence), and paragraph eight (the last sentence). What is "a novel feature of the structure," and what was found? Study the statement with this sentence structure: "if only ______, it follows that _____, then ______," and note that this statement includes examples of a hypothesis and a syllogism. Visit another Web site and find definitions for hypothesis and syllogism, then think of another science related hypothesis and syllogism. (Hint no. 1: Visit the Web sites with Logic in the Work of Aristotle, Logic at the Science-Humanities Education Service, and Syllogism at bartleby.com, for definitions and explanations of hypothesis and syllogism. Their precise urls are cited in this book's Appendix F. Hint no. 2: To find a science subject and data so that you can form a hypothesis and a syllogism, visit any science related Web site cited in this book.)
  4. See Watson and Crick's paper, paragraphs two through four, and thirteen. Identify, with names and examples, six influences on Watson and Crick's claims. Include how scientists' ideas were different from their ideas, similar to their ideas, not helpful to them and why not, plus helpful with what they concluded. Provide some details on DNA related ideas of some of these other scientists who influenced Watson and Crick, including quotations if possible. Extra Activity: Identify two reasons why Franklin was not given the full credit due for her contribution until nearly fifty years after the publication of Watson and Crick's paper. (Hints: For more details, visit the Web sites or pages for Rosalind Franklin at Contributions of Twentieth Century Women in Physics; Photograph of X-Ray of DNA Molecule at the Book That Sheds Light on a Scientific Landmark Web page; Historic Figures: Rosalind Elsie Franklin, 1920 to 1958; A Science Odyssey: People and Discoveries: Rosalind Franklin; A Science Odyssey: People and Discoveries: Watson and Crick, Wilkins, and Franklin; the Nobel Prize E-Museum—Biography of Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins [1962], with Nobel Lecture; and the 1962 Physiology/Medicine Nobel Prize Presentation Speech. Their urls are cited in the Related Internet Sites section below.)
  5. Identify "the celebrated understatement" near the end of the Watson and Crick paper, and suggest why is it said to be an understatement. Write, then explain, another science-related under-statement, then, basing your answer on an actual science field's happening that is mentioned in any Web site cited in this book, choose an understatement that you find, or create one.
  6. At the beginning of their paper, Watson and Crick claimed that the features they had discovered "are of considerable biological interest." Explain why.
  7. Why is it important that the structure of DNA was discovered?
  8. It has been said that the Watson and Crick paper is a model of scientific writing. Identify some features you think indicate that this comment may be true, then explain your reason for thinking that.


DNA Learning Center—Genes in Education


At this Web site for the Dolan DNA Learning Center in the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, see the link to the award winning "DNA From the Beginning," plus links to Gene News, Genetic Origins, features, resources, and more links, as well as a search in archives option (e.g., for the structure of DNA).

"Structure of DNA" in the Molecular Biology Notebook Online


This colorfully illustrated Web site by Nathalie Castells-Brooke, Ph.D., features Components of DNA and a Few Principles, DNA: Some Facts, What's in a Name?, and Further Information.

DNA Files: Genetic Science Documentaries on National Public Radio (NPR)


At this Web site which aims to "unravel the mysteries of genetic science" through radio programs, see links to information about the programs, behind the scenes, search, and interact. See also the link for information on learning more (with more links to online information on DNA basics that started just after Watson and Crick's discovery, and DNA today, e.g., on subjects including Basic Genetics, Genes and Identity, Genes and Behavior, Genes and Medicine, plus Gene Testing, Genes and Cloning, Genes and Longevity, Genes and Stem Cells, Genetics and Applied Ecology, Genetics and Infectious Diseases, Genetics and Astrobiology, and DNA Marketplace including resources, genes and food, and patenting DNA).

DNA Sciences


At this Web site for DNA Sciences, Inc., a company dedicated to applied genetics, read about the four methods of application this company uses, then see links for Family Genetics (with its DNA Basics, and Special Report), and Science and Discovery (with its data on genetics transforming health care).

DNA Pioneer Dr. James D. Watson—Time Yahoo Chat Transcript from March 24, 1999

http://www.yahoo.com (search for "Online Chat with Dr. James Watson 1999")

This chat, sponsored by Time magazine and Yahoo.com, features Watson as one of the twentieth century's one hundred noteworthy scientists and thinkers, and a "discoverer of the secret of life."

James Dewey Watson—Nobel Lecture


Click the link for "The Involvement of RNA in the Synthesis of Proteins," the lecture presented December 11, 1961, available here in PDF format. See also a biography link.

Francis Harry Compton Crick—Nobel Lecture


Click the link for "On the Genetic Code," the lecture presented on December 11, 1962, available online here. Note also a biography link.

Nobel E-Museum Biography of Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins, 1962


This page provides biographical information on the third scientist (of King's College, London, England) who, together with Watson and Crick (of Cambridge University in England), was given the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering DNA while collaborating with their research. Click also the link to Wilkins' Nobel lecture "The Molecular Configuration of Nucleic Acids" presented December 11, 1961 and online in PDF format.

Rosalind Franklin at Contributions of Twentieth Century Women to Physics


Click the "Eighty-Six Eminent Physicists" link, then choose and click Crystallography in the pull-down menu, and then Franklin's name for links to a biography, a list of her publications, and information on her contributions and honors, including data that indicate she should be given equal credit for the discovery of DNA. Find here quotations by colleagues, historians, and others, and, via links, "A Tribute to Dr. Franklin" by W.M. Stanley, and a biography "Light on a Dark Lady" by Anne Piper (her lifelong friend) who provides details on how Franklin's research was important to the discovery of DNA, and quotes Watson's 1998 comment that acknowledges Franklin's contribution to the discovery after years during which her part in the discovery was ignored. Piper also notes Franklin's science related influence on Piper's children.

Historic Figures—Rosalind Elsie Franklin, 1920 to 1958


This biography of Franklin features detailed data on the x-ray photograph of the DNA molecule that she took, her research related to it, and how Watson and Crick came to know about it then use it as part of their work. Note also the information on a paper that Franklin wrote on the subject before the paper written by Watson and Crick, although their paper was published before she got the chance to publish hers. See links to other sites with more biographical information on Franklin.

Photograph of X-Ray of DNA Molecule in Book Sheds Light on a Scientific Landmark


Along with information on the book Rosalind Franklin: Dark Lady of DNA and a link to an audio version of an interview with the author Barbara Maddox, this Web page features a reproduction of the photograph of the x-ray of the DNA molecule that was photographed by Franklin and "sparked a scientific revolution." It also has a quote by Watson on his reaction when he first saw the photograph, and information that aims to explain Franklin's true role in the discovery of DNA. There are, in addition, links to sites with more data and information (e.g., Watson speaking on Talk of the Nation in 2000).

A Science Odyssey: People and Discoveries: Rosalind Franklin


Read a biography on Franklin and her contribution to the discovery of DNA, and her connection with Watson, Crick, and Wilkins. See also a link to "You Try It: DNA Workshop." Do a search at www.pbs.org and see annotated links to more than fifteen pages of information that include facts on Franklin and her DNA research.

A Science Odyssey: People and Discoveries—Watson and Crick, Wilkins, and Franklin


Type Watson and Crick in the search box. Click Enter. See three links that go to information on the contributions of Watson, Crick, Wilkins, and Franklin to the discovery and description of the DNA structure. A photo of a DNA model is on one page.

1962 Physiology/Medicine Nobel Prize Presentation Speech


This speech was presented by A. Engstrom, of the Royal Caroline Institute, when the Nobel Prize was awarded to Watson, Crick, and Wilkins, who were credited with the discovery of DNA.

Life Sciences in the Twentieth Century (1988) by Garland E. Allen


This article reveals what occurred before, after, and during, the discovery of DNA. Learn about Watson, Crick, Wilkins, and Franklin in "Biochemistry and Molecular Biology."

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"A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid" Watson, J.D. and Crick, F.H.C. (1953)

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