Francis Crick: The Man Behind the DNA Model
Francis Harry Compton Crick was born on June 8, 1916, in Northampton, England as the first son of Harry Crick and Annie Elizabeth Crick. Walter Drawbridge Crick, Francis Crick's grandfather, was an amateur naturalist who corresponded with Charles Darwin, wrote a survey of local foraminifera, and had two gastropods named after him.
Crick completed his education at Northampton Grammar School and Mill Hill School in London. Later he attended the University College London to study physics and completed his graduation in 1937. Unfortunately, research towards his PhD was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II. He participated in military research during the war while employed by Admiralty Research Laboratory, working on the creation of magnetic and acoustic mines. Dr R.V. Jones, the chief of Britain's scientific intelligence during the war, wanted Crick to continue his job after the war. Still, Crick chose to pursue his studies, this time in biology, a field he knew very little at that time.
Francis Crick travelled to Cambridge and worked in the Strangeways Research Laboratory before transferring to the Cavendish Laboratory of Cambridge in 1949, all with the help of a scholarship from the Medical Research Council. In 1951, a young American biologist named James Watson started working at the lab.
Watson and Crick developed a molecular model describing the known physical and chemical properties of DNA using X-ray diffraction research in 1953.
By then, the scientific community had recognised that the mysterious nucleic acids, particularly DNA, were crucial in determining each cell's hereditary structure and function. Collaborating with Watson, Crick worked to solve the mystery surrounding the structure of DNA. In 1954, Crick received his doctorate from Gonville and Caius College at the University of Cambridge.
Watson and Crick developed a molecular model describing the known physical and chemical properties of DNA using X-ray diffraction research in 1953. The model was referred to as the "double helix", resembling a twisted ladder consisting of two intertwined spiral strands. They observed that if the two sides of the DNA separated, each would serve as the foundation for a pattern for producing new strands identical to their previous companions. This theory and subsequent study explained the process of gene replication and, later, chromosome replication.
In April 1953, Watson and Crick published a paper in the scientific journal Nature documenting their DNA double-helical structure. They had used the work of English scientist Rosalind Franklin, a colleague of Maurice Wilkins at King's College London, to arrive at their discovery. Their hypothesis also suggested that the sequence of bases throughout the DNA molecule spells some type of code that is "read" by a biological mechanism and translated into the specific proteins responsible for the structure and function of a cell.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, Crick received the Prix Charles Leopold Meyer of the French Academy of Sciences in 1961 and the Gairdner Foundation Award of Merit in 1962.
Watson, Crick and Wilkins secured a Nobel Prize for their work in 1962. Crick continued researching DNA and was appointed director of Cambridge University's Molecular Biology Laboratory in 1962 and a fellow of the Salk Institute in California.
A few years later, in 1966, detailing the recent biochemistry revolution he had helped usher in, Crick published a book titled Of Molecules and Men. In 1981, Crick published another book titled Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature, wherein he suggested that life on Earth may have been seeded on another planet. Finally, in 1988, he published another book titled What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, Crick received the Prix Charles Leopold Meyer of the French Academy of Sciences in 1961 and the Gairdner Foundation Award of Merit in 1962. In 1960, he shared a Lasker Foundation Award with Watson and Wilkins. Two years later, he was named a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Francis Crick died of colon cancer on July 28, 2004, in La Jolla, California.
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