PM - Friday, 30 July , 2004 18:48:00
Newton, Darwin, Pasteur, Einstein ... the great discoveries of science grant their finders immortality - and so it will be for Francis Crick, who has died at the age of 88.Crick, and his scientific colleague James Watson, together discovered the double helix structure of DNA - the building block of life itself.His death comes one year after the 50th anniversary of the discovery.
The story goes that on the 28th February, 1953, Francis Crick strode into the Eagle Pub at Cambridge with fellow scientist James Watson and announced they had unravelled the structure of DNA saying "we have discovered the secret of life".Nine years later, the discovery earnt Professor Crick a share in a Nobel prize.FRANCIS CRICK: It was overnight we had the idea and it only took a few days to build the model. We actually built a couple of models, we never kept the other one, it was very similar.JAMES WATSON: We saw it; it was on one Saturday morning and I thought, oh boy, that's the answer. So the answer was very, very simple.
James Watson and Francis Crick in 1999 reflecting on their discovery that DNA consists of a double helix of sugar phosphate molecules cross-linked by nucleic acids.Before Crick and Watson joined forces, it had already been established that DNA carries genetic information from one generation to the next, but the structure of DNA and the mechanism by which genetic information is passed on remained a mystery/.
They would have been nowhere without research already undertaken by Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins, who took the first x-ray images of DNA in 1950.Francis Crick acknowledged their work on BBC radio in 1999.
FRANCIS CRICK: It was fairly fast, but you know, we were lucky. One must remember, it was based on the x-ray work done here in London started off by Morris Wilkins and carried on by Rosalind Franklin, and we wouldn't have got to the stage of at least having a molecular model, if it hadn't been for their work.
It was heralded as the greatest breakthrough of 20th century science ... the key to understanding how all plants and animals reproduce.In the 50 years since, science and medicine have been changed forever.It paved the way for a raft of groundbreaking and controversial technologies, including genetic engineering, stem cell research, DNA fingerprinting, and screening for inherited diseases.In 1987, the BBC made a film called Life Story, documenting Watson and Crick's discovery:
EXCERPT FROM LIFE STORYFRANCIS CRICK: The big questions: what is man? What is life? How do we come to be the way we are?JAMES WATSON: Big questions ...FRANCIS CRICK: Big questions get big answers. We can blow ourselves up but we still don't know how we reproduce ourselves.JAMES WATSON: Are you interested in genes?FRANCIS CRICK: Certainly.JAMES WATSON: Where would you look for a gene if you were looking?FRANCIS CRICK: My hunch is the nucleic acid. I mean, you ask me what's fun … right now, I'd say DNA.JAMES WATSON: Me too. I'm sorry, is it Francis?FRANCIS CRICK: Yes.JAMES WATSON: Jim.FRANCIS CRICK: Hello.Francis Crick has been described as one of the most brilliant and influential scientists of all time - a brash, temperamental man with a bomb-like laugh and forthright manners.He first met the young American scientist James Watson in 1951. Watson had come to Cambridge hoping to discover what genes were and expecting to work with someone else.JAMES WATSON: It was very easy to sort of convince Francis … I mean, I think we shared the belief that we really should find out the structure of DNA, and we wondered whether we could do it by the approach which Pauling, Linus Pauling had successfully used in predicting the alpha helical structure. So we said, you know, why can’t we just imitate Pauling and guess the structure of DNA.REBECCA BARRETT: James Watson talking to Robin Williams from The Science Show last year on the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the structure of DNA.After cracking the DNA code, both men turned their attention to the study of embryos In the 1970s, Crick shocked the scientific establishment by announcing he was moving to the United States and abandoning his field of molecular biology for neurobiology or the study of the brain But it’s his work on DNA that Francis Crick will be most remembered for.EXCERPT FROM LIFE STORYJAMES WATSON: I’m Watson. FRANCIS CRICK: I’m Crick.JAMES WATSON: Let us show you our trick.FRANCIS CRICK: We have found where the seed of life sprang from.JAMES WATSON: We believe we’re a stew …FRANCIS CRICK: … of molecular goo.JAMES WATSON: With a period of 34 angstrom.FRANCIS CRICK: So just think what this means …JAMES WATSON: … to our respective genes.FRANCIS CRICK: That sex need not be disgusting. JAMES WATSON: All you girls try the trick … FRANCIS CRICK: … of Watson and Crick …JAMES WATSON and FRANCIS CRICK: … and achieve double helical lusting.MARK COLVIN: That little scientific ditty was originally recited by Francis Crick and James Watson at a symposium in June 1953 to celebrate their discovery of the Double Helix.Francis Crick RIP, at the age of 88.
Transcript;;This is a transcript from PM. The program is broadcast around Australia at 5:10pm on Radio National and 6:10pm on ABC Local Radio;;http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2004/s1165891.htm