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Monday, February 14, 2005

Robert Mehnert

Papers of DNA Pioneer and Nobel Laureate Francis Crick Added to National Library of Medicine’s Profiles in Science Web Site

Bethesda, Maryland — The National Library of Medicine, a part of the National Institutes of Health, is proud to present an extensive selection from the papers of one of the twentieth century’s greatest scientists, Francis Crick, on its Profiles in Science Web site.

This latest collection on Profiles in Science represents a close collaboration between the National Library of Medicine and the Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine in London, which holds the Crick papers. The Crick collection brings to 14 the number of notable researchers and public health officials whose personal and professional records are featured on Profiles. The site is located at <www.profiles.nlm.nih.gov>.

The name of Francis Crick (1916–2004) is inextricably linked to the discovery of the double helix of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in 1953, considered the most significant advance in biology since Darwin’s theory of evolution. The insights of Crick, and his collaborator, James D. Watson, into the structure of DNA and into the genetic code made possible a new understanding of heredity at the molecular level.

“Major current advances in science and biotechnology, such as genetic engineering, the mapping of the human genome, and genetic fingerprinting, all have their origins in Crick’s inspired work,” said Donald A.B. Lindberg, M.D., director of the National Library of Medicine. “The double helix has not only reshaped biology, it has become a cultural icon, represented in sculpture, visual art, jewelry, and toys.”

During a research career spanning more than 50 years, the theoretical biologist and biophysicist also made fundamental contributions to structural studies of important biological molecules through X-ray analysis; to our understanding of protein synthesis; to the deciphering of the genetic code by which hereditary information is stored and transcribed in the cell; and to our conception of the human brain.

Francis Harry Compton Crick was born in Northampton, England, in 1916, and received his bachelor degree in physics from University College London in 1937. His doctoral studies were interrupted by World War II, during which he designed mines for the British navy. After the war he switched from physics to molecular biology, and, with a Medical Research Council fellowship, he went to Cambridge University. There he joined Max Perutz’s protein structure group at the Cavendish Laboratory and earned his Ph.D. in 1953.

In the summer of 1951, Crick began his famed collaboration with James D. Watson, which culminated in the description of the double helical structure of DNA in the journal Nature on April 25, 1953. For their discovery Watson and Crick received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962, together with Maurice Wilkins. Crick regarded the discovery as confirmation of his conviction that the origins and processes of life, including human consciousness and free will, can be reduced to fundamental laws of physics and chemistry, and can thus be explained entirely in rational, scientific terms.

After 1953, Crick devoted most of his effort to solving the genetic coding problem, the problem of how genes controlled the synthesis of proteins. In 1961, he and Sydney Brenner reported evidence that the genetic code is to be read three letters at a time, evidence that made possible the full elucidation of the code by 1966. Crick then turned to developmental biology, the study of how genes control the growth and specialization of organs.

In 1976, Crick moved to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, where he took up neurobiology, his other long-standing scientific interest. He never let up in his passionate pursuit of scientific knowledge, editing his latest article just days before his death from colon cancer on July 28, 2004, at age 88.

The online exhibition features correspondence, lecture notes, draft and published articles, laboratory notebooks, and photographs from the Francis Crick collection at the Wellcome Library. Visitors to the site can view, for example, an early photo of Watson and Crick as research students at the Cavendish Laboratory, drafts of articles on the structure of DNA, and Crick’s unpublished note predicting the existence of transfer ribonucleic acid.

Profiles in Science was launched September 1998 by the National Library of Medicine. The Library, the world’s largest library of the health sciences, is a component of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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