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Double-Helix Model of DNA Paper Published 59 Years Ago 112

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the still-awaiting-army-of-cloned-housecats dept.
pigrabbitbear writes with musings on the anniversary of the groundbreaking paper on DNA structure by Watson and Crick. From the article: "Consider every organism that's ever lived on Earth. From dinosaurs to bacteria, the number is near infinite, and an overwhelming majority have their entire structures and lives dictated according to their DNA. The DNA molecule is life itself, and it's astonishing that we've only known what it looks like for less than a century. But it's true: In one of the most groundbreaking papers ever published, James D. Watson and Francis Crick described the double-helix structure of DNA in Nature, 59 years ago today."
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Double-Helix Model of DNA Paper Published 59 Years Ago

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  • Why now? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Wait for a year and there is (a bit of) a story.

  • Rosalind Franklin (Score:5, Insightful)

    by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Monday April 02, 2012 @01:48PM (#39551781)
    Rosalind Franklin deserves credit. Shew as not the first to publish, but it was her data that Watson and Crick used and she had come to the same conclusion as they had.
    • Re:Rosalind Franklin (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Monday April 02, 2012 @01:53PM (#39551833) Homepage Journal
      And therein lies the real charm of how this story is worded: the celebration is in favour of the publication of a description, not the discovery. The last link in the summary [vice.com] covers the controversy a bit; though it leaves out mention of the graduate student that Watson and Crick acquired to help them through the hydrogen bonding, the name of whom escapes me at the moment. (Anyone remember?) I always felt he deserved more credit than he got.
      • . . . though it leaves out mention of the graduate student that Watson and Crick acquired to help them through the hydrogen bonding, the name of whom escapes me at the moment. (Anyone remember?) I always felt he deserved more credit than he got.
        --

        Perhaps you're thinking of Jerry Donohue [wikipedia.org], the post-doc physical chemist?

    • Re:Rosalind Franklin (Score:4, Informative)

      by lyapunov (241045) on Monday April 02, 2012 @02:28PM (#39552209)

      There is a book dedicated to this very subject.

      http://www.nature.com/embor/journal/v4/n1/full/embor723.html [nature.com]

    • by Fnkmaster (89084)

      While it was clearly her data that they used, I've never heard any source state that she had already solved the problem of the exact structure of DNA. She probably realized that the crystal indicated a helical structure, but I don't think she knew exactly what it looked like or how it worked. So yeah, she deserved more credit then she received at the time, but I think it's possible to swing too far in the other direction, taking credit away from the guys who worked out much of the annoying details of the

      • by whitesea (1811570)

        While it was clearly her data that they used, I've never heard any source state that she had already solved the problem of the exact structure of DNA. She probably realized that the crystal indicated a helical structure, but I don't think she knew exactly what it looked like or how it worked. So yeah, she deserved more credit then she received at the time, but I think it's possible to swing too far in the other direction, taking credit away from the guys who worked out much of the annoying details of the problem.

        There were other groups that were close to this discovery. Without Rosalind, one of those groups could be the first to figure it out and publish. Then nobody would have remembered Watson and Crick. They owe her their fame as first to the pole and for a long time they claimed she was totally irrelevant to their discovery.

    • Rosalind Franklin has credit. Her paper [nature.com] is published in the same issue of Nature as the Watson and Crick paper, it's two pages away. She'd have shared the Nobel prize if she hadn't died before it was awarded. She got a bit screwed, but she's hardly the first academic you can say that about.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 02, 2012 @01:49PM (#39551791)

    "From dinosaurs to bacteria, the number is near infinite..."

    Pet peeve. No number that can be thought of is anywhere 'near' infinite.

    • I suppose it's closer to infinite than, say, the color green is.
      • by smelch (1988698)
        I disagree, as there are an infinite number of shades we would describe as green.
        • by lgw (121541)

          Are there? Or is there some quantum limit on the number of discreet frequencies that EM radiation can take? I've wondered about that,

          • by lennier (44736)

            Or is there some quantum limit on the number of discreet frequencies that EM radiation can take?

            Yes, there's a limit on the discreet frequencies, but EM radiation is such of a gossip that it tends to leak just a few tiny secrets to its closest friends, as long as they swear never to reveal it to another living wavepacket, but omg you simply have to hear what just happened to Ultraviolet, it was an absolute catastrophe.

            • by lgw (121541)

              If you have that much fun with the minor typo in that post, you should read my whole posting history - you'll be in stitches! (Yes, I can't type for shit, and only see my errors after "Submit".)

          • What about the Lorentz contractions of wavelengths? Couldn't wavelengths be irrational?

            • by lgw (121541)

              Well, that sort of depends on how you look at it. Is what matters the "real" wavelength, or the ability of a photon to alter the behavior of something else? When an electron "samples" the photon, is the result discrete or continuous?

              It also goes to how distance works - is the underlying metric of the universe discrete or continuous? I've become a believer that it's discrete (down below plank scale, so effectively continuous at the scale of particle physics). There are some interesting approaches to quan

    • No number that can be thought of is anywhere 'near' infinite.

      As I understand it, programmers, mathematicians, and Isaac Asimov count 0, 1, infinity. That being the case, then, both 0 and 1 are near infinity.

      ~Loyal

    • by BluBrick (1924)

      "From dinosaurs to bacteria, the number is near infinite..."

      Pet peeve. No number that can be thought of is anywhere 'near' infinite.

      Yes, in the domain of mathematics, the phrase "the number is near infinite" is nonsensical, but this is a report about a scientific event, it is not a scientific paper in and of itself. Clearly, the writer's intent was to convey an of the magnitude of the number.
      .
      .
      .
      You did get that, didn't you?

      • by jc42 (318812)

        Clearly, the writer's intent was to convey an of the magnitude of the number.

        Well, sure, but this is /., which fancies itself a technically-oriented news site. In this context, calling a finite number "near infinite" merely makes the writer look dumb. You'd expect such metaphorical usage in the mass media. But lots of us here expect this site to be more accurate. Looks like we were wrong about that.

        Maybe we should just start talking about building a successor to slashdot. Then we can let this site continue on its dumbing-down path. This wouldn't be the first time that the t

    • The number, bless her soul, is standing just outside Hilbert's Hotel [wikipedia.org] and thus is near infinite when the first of coach carrying countably infinite people arrives.

  • I bet everyone though it was an April Fools joke.
  • All thanks to LSD (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmh@gmaiWELTYl.com minus author> on Monday April 02, 2012 @01:55PM (#39551847) Journal

    Who knows how much longer it would have taken to discover if Crick wasn't tripping balls:

    http://www.miqel.com/entheogens/francis_crick_dna_lsd.html [miqel.com]

  • Near Infinite (Score:5, Informative)

    by ooshna (1654125) on Monday April 02, 2012 @01:57PM (#39551863)

    Consider every organism that's ever lived on Earth. From dinosaurs to bacteria, the number is near infinite, and an overwhelming majority have their entire structures and lives dictated according to their DNA

    The number of organisms that ever lived is as close to infinity as the amount of protons in the cosmos. No where near to infinite at all.

    • by spads (1095039)
      Agreed. That statement, actually nearer than near, is coincident with idiotic, and the article unworthy of its subject.
    • English majors and computer/science people don't always communicate the same way, do they? Though not "waxing poetic", I think it is a fair amount of "poetic license" to say near infinite. To keep on with my overuse of cliches, language is a bit more like horseshoes and hand grenades, isn't it? Plus, you weren't expecting scientific or mathematical precision from the Slashdot editors, were you? ;-)
    • by Anonymous Coward

      25 is as close as any number to infinity.

    • by Whiteox (919863)

      The number of organisms that ever lived is as close to infinity as the amount of protons in the cosmos. No where near to infinite at all.

      Therefore finite. And if we assume that all carbon based life forms variates by DNA, and if computer modelling can show each variation, then we will have a full blown 3D picture of each possible form. Not only that, we can also see how each form develops over time, life expectancy, illness and how environmental conditions affect it.
      The long term goal is to prove that DNA is not Earth-centric, but universal in carbon based life. That means that we will be able to examine our alien friends even before we meet

    • by blueg3 (192743)

      In science, there's a fancy term for this. It's called "large". Or, if you really need to, "very large".

    • Agreed, words mean things. They could have chosen a word which meant what they were trying to say, such as countless, or they could have tried to use 2 words, like "unbelievably large" but they chose to use some other word with a different meaning. They may as well have said:

      Consider every organism that's ever lived on Earth. From dinosaurs to bacteria, the number is near banana, and an overwhelming majority have their entire structures and lives dictated according to their DNA.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sure his account is one-sided, but I don't think he's the type who would or could conceal vital facts about what Ms. Franklin did or didn't do sixty years ago that could have a bearing on credit for the discovery. Watson confirmed that he attended a talk given by Franklin where she presented an x-ray crystallography photo of DNA that seemed to indicate some sort of helical structure, but he says that Franklin insisted that there was no helix.

    The relationship of Crick to Watson seemed similar to that betwee

  • The more I learn about Watson the more I'm inclined to believe he was a dick.

    http://www.brown.edu/Courses/BI0020_Miller/dh/guide.html [brown.edu]

    --
    That cliche seems to be true here too "Behind every successful man ... is most likely a woman!" Hmm, Watson - check, Einstein - check, where is/was Newton's woman? =)

    • by the gnat (153162)

      The more I learn about Watson the more I'm inclined to believe he was a dick.

      I've never met him, but I've heard quite a few people - including some old-school molecular biologists, the kind that enjoy humiliating grad students during discussion sections or qualifying exams - express this opinion. Edward O. Wilson's autobiography, Naturalist, is also pretty uncomplimentary (they were faculty at Harvard together when Watson won the Nobel prize). Watson managed to piss off a great number of people during his

  • Apparently there was some woman scientist involved in the breakthrough who did not get full credit and acknowledgment.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TBerben (1061176)
      You are correct. Rosalind Franklin [wikipedia.org] was the one who actually made and interpreted the x-ray diffraction images of DNA. Then her work was shown to Watson and Crick, behind her back, who published their model of the double helix and got famous.
      • by the gnat (153162) on Monday April 02, 2012 @02:29PM (#39552229)

        Rosalind Franklin [wikipedia.org] was the one who actually made and interpreted the x-ray diffraction images of DNA. Then her work was shown to Watson and Crick, behind her back, who published their model of the double helix and got famous.

        This is basically correct, but I think that both the contribution of the diffraction images, and the degree to which Watson and Crick behaved unethically, tends to be somewhat overstated. Franklin actually published her results in the same issue of Nature as the double helix model. The main reason why this affair is remembered is because Watson published a rather uncomplimentary account of Franklin in his book The Double Helix (short summary: he thought she was a good scientist, but a raging feminist bitch). Franklin was at that point long since dead and could not defend herself. Watson also has a long history of pissing people off.

        If nothing else, the real reason Franklin isn't more famous isn't that Watson screwed her: she died of ovarian cancer at age 37, four years before Watson and Crick won the Nobel prize (along with Maurice Wilkins, who really didn't deserve it).

    • And therein lies the real charm of how this story is worded: the celebration is in favour of the publication of a description, not the discovery. The last link in the summary [vice.com] covers the controversy a bit; though it leaves out mention of the graduate student that Watson and Crick acquired to help them through the hydrogen bonding, the name of whom escapes me at the moment. (Anyone remember?) I always felt he deserved more credit than he got. POLO RALPH LAUREN >>Men Polo Ralph Lauren Shirts
      • by jc42 (318812)

        therein lies the real charm of how this story is worded: the celebration is in favour of the publication of a description, not the discovery.

        And this is normal in the reporting of scientific "discoveries", for a rather common reason: The story is about a years-long process, and there really wasn't a single "Eureka!" moment when it all became clear. Rather, the people involved gathered evidence by means of a lot of experimenting and measuring. Slowly, the picture began to emerge. Hardly anything has a specific date. But the publication of the result does have a date.

        As others have explained here, an important part of the story was the X-r

  • by Jeff1946 (944062) on Monday April 02, 2012 @02:33PM (#39552299) Journal

    Near the end of the paper is this wonderful understatement: "It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material."

    • Yes, it's the pairing of bases between strands, the freedom of ordering bases along each strand, and the implications for representing and copying arbitrary sequences of characters that are truly important.

      For some reason the phrase "double helix" is always quoted. "Double" has some significance, but the helical shape is not particularly important. It's a natural result of the uniformity of the chain independently of the attached bases.

      It seems that Watson and/or Crick understood what was important, but the

      • The sequence of bases on a single chain does not appear to be restricted in any way. However, if only specific pairs of bases can be formed, it follows that if the sequence of bases on one chain is given, then the sequence on the other chain is automatically determined. ... It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possibly copying mechanism for the genetic material.

        Nature, number 4356, April 25, 1953, p. 737.

  • by ODBOL (197239) on Monday April 02, 2012 @02:57PM (#39552549) Homepage

    From TFA:

    The DNA molecule is life itself, and it’s astonishing that we’ve only known what it looks like for less than a century.

    Sigh. No, DNA is not "life itself." It requires the copying mechanism and the interpretation mechanism. Even then, there is important life information carried in the immune state, and probably in other mechanisms that we haven't noticed yet.

    "What it looks like" isn't really so important. The functional properties, in the complicated environment of a cell, are important. This quote from the Watson/Crick paper catches the important part:

    The sequence of bases on a single chain does not appear to be restricted in any way. However, if only specific pairs of bases can be formed, it follows that if the sequence of bases on one chain is given, then the sequence on the other chain is automatically determined. ... It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possibly copying mechanism for the genetic material.

  • My guess, the looming potential apocalypse towards the end of 2012 overrides any patience OP may have wanted to exercise in waiting for the big 6-0.

    As an aside, if read without pauses or inflection, the subject line gives the same analysis as the body of this post C;

  • by Anonymous Coward

    [quote]"Consider every organism that's ever lived on Earth. From dinosaurs to bacteria, the number is near infinite..."[/quote]

    Near infinite? What does that mean exactly? It's either infinite or it's not. You can't be "near" infinite. There's no such thing.

    [quote]"... and an overwhelming majority have their entire structures and lives dictated according to their DNA."[/quote]

    Ya, because environment and social circles have nothing to do with how their lives are dictated at all, right? And these things have n

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