States Executive summary: Co-Discoverer of DNA
James Watson was a bright
young American who entered the University of Chicago at the age of
15. He was particularly interested in birds, and quickly earned a BS
and Ph.D. in zoology, then went to Europe to study genetics.
At Cambridge, he met a Brit
Crick, and together with their colleague Maurice
Wilkins, they tried to elucidate the structure of
deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). They felt Linus
Pauling, then the world's most famous chemist, was breathing down
their necks, and they desperately wanted to solve the DNA riddle
before he did. Pauling had already come close, but it was Crick,
Watson, and Wilkins who first showed that the collected clues only
made sense if DNA were structured like two twisting, spiral ladders
-- the double helix.
Some have suggested that
Franklin, who worked with Crick, Watson, and Wilkins, may deserve
much more credit than she's been given. The evidence clearly shows
she was intimately involved in the research of DNA's structure; that
she pointed out the flaws in an early Crick-Watson theory that
suggested three, not two, DNA chains; and that Crick and Watson used
Franklin's x-ray DNA photographs before obtaining her permission.
Franklin, however, died in 1958, four years before Crick, Watson, and
Wilkins got their Nobel Prizes.
Crick and Watson also
theorized on the structure of viruses. Without Crick, Watson studied
x-ray diffraction in ribonucleic acid (RNA), and the role of RNA in
protein synthesis. He's taught at CalTech and Harvard, and served as
director and president of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York,
studying tumor virology, the molecular basis of cancer, and oncogenes
In October 2007, Watson
sparked controversy when he said in an interview that he was
"inherently gloomy" about Africa's future because "all
our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is
the same as ours, whereas all the testing says not really". He
later apologized "unreservedly" and said there is "no
scientific basis for such a belief."
Father: James Dewey
Watson (businessman) Mother: Jean Mitchell (d. 1957) Wife:
Elizabeth Lewis (m. 25-Mar-1968, two sons)