Last modified: Wednesday, February 12, 2003
50th anniversary of Indiana University graduate James Watson's DNA discovery
"We wish to suggest a structure for the salt of deoxyribose nucleic acid (D.N.A.). This structure has novel features which are of considerable biological interest."
-- James Watson and Francis Crick, in a brief letter to the journal Nature, April 2, 1953
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Feb. 21 marks the 50th anniversary of the day biologists James Watson and Francis Crick realized that DNA was the genetic material of all living things on Earth. Their quiet and modest suggestion ushered in the modern era of biology and chemistry. Molecular biology, gene therapy, cloning -- all are the grandchildren of their monumental discovery. It also earned Watson and Crick a share of the 1962 Nobel Prize in physiology.
Watson received his doctorate in zoology from Indiana University in 1950. He later said of his studies in Bloomington that he was strongly influenced by two other Nobel Prize-winning IU scientists -- Salvador Luria and Hermann Muller -- as well as by IU genetics pioneer Tracy Sonneborn.
Luria helped Watson get the postdoctoral fellowship at Cambridge University that eventually led to Watson's friendship and collaboration with Crick.
Watson and Crick shared the Nobel Prize with New Zealander Maurice Wilkins, whose X-ray diffraction studies helped confirm DNA as the genetic material of all living organisms on earth. Up to that point, protein had also been considered a candidate.