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Francis Crick and DNA

written by: Ricky•edited by: Paul Arnold•updated: 10/13/2008

One of the world's most famous geneticists, Francis Crick was the joint winner of the Nobel Prize for Physiology in 1962 for his work on revealing the structure of DNA. It was a discovery that changed humanity's view of itself and of the natural world.

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    The world famous geneticist was born Francis Harry Compton Crick in Northampton in the UK in 1916. From an early age he was interested in science and mathematics and eventually went to university to study towards a physics degree. His PhD studies were interrupted by the outbreak of World War II and he went to work for the British Admiralty, to develop counter measures to acoustic and magnetic mines.

    When the war ended, Crick decided to switch fields as he was determined to study biology.

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    The structure of DNA

    A genius will always produce good results in whichever field they work in. And Crick eventually applied his brilliance to working out the structure of DNA. Working with James Watson at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, the pair produced one of the most famous scientific papers of all time. It was published in 1953 and put forward the double helical structure of DNA and its method of replication.

    Effectively they had cracked the blueprint of life and the paper contains probably one of the most understated lines in all of biology, and perhaps in all literature too. "It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing (of purine and pyrimidine bases) that we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material." To many in the field this was the most important discovery since Darwin's Theory of Evolution.

    Research carried out by two other scientists, Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin paved the way for Crick and Watson's discovery.

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    The Central Dogma

    Crick made many other contributions to science during his life, particularly in neuroscience. He also wrote quite a few books which include Of Molecules and Men and Life Itself amongst others. Finally, after a lifetime of incredible achievements this great personality left for his heavenly abode in the year 2004. He was 88 when he died.

    The profile of Francis Crick would be incomplete without the mention of the central dogma of molecular biology which relates to the flow of genetic information between DNA, RNA and proteins. To put this concept in the simple words of Francis himself - Once information has passed into protein, it cannot get out again. Basically it says that DNA does the coding for the production of RNA, which in turn codes for the production of the protein. The reverse cannot be done, that is to say that protein cannot code for protein, DNA or RNA.

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    Further reading

    To read about another world famous geneticist - Barbara McClintock - click here