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DNA Pioneer Francis Crick Passes Away 247

Neil Halelamien writes "Francis Crick, who discovered the structure of DNA with James Watson, Rosalind Franklin, and Maurice Wilkins, passed away Wednesday in San Diego. His co-discovery of 'the secret of life' made him one of the most influential scientists of all time. In more recent years, he shifted his research efforts from molecular biology to neuroscience, with a particular interest in the question of the neural basis of consciousness."
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DNA Pioneer Francis Crick Passes Away

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  • by kjeldor ( 146944 ) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @07:25PM (#9838329)
    Don't worry, he'll be back.

    In clone form.
  • at least (Score:5, Interesting)

    by liquidpele ( 663430 ) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @07:27PM (#9838351) Journal
    At least he got to see the human genome decoded before he died. That's gotta feel pretty good.
  • by cephyn ( 461066 ) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @07:27PM (#9838353) Homepage
    Did he use his own, or watson's, DNA under the microscope to make the discovery?
    • by GuyMannDude ( 574364 ) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @07:32PM (#9838390) Journal

      It was Crick's. Indeed, Watson didn't even know what Crick was up to in the next room. Suddenly a voice from nowhere rang out: "Watson! Come here! I want you!" After that, there was no looking back. A new era of technology was ushered in.

      Didn't you learn this story in elementary school?


    • by Monkey-Man2000 ( 603495 ) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @07:39PM (#9838464)
      My understanding is that they didn't use any of their own raw data, but the data from Rosalind Franklin []. More info [].
    • no microscope (Score:3, Informative)

      by phyruxus ( 72649 )
      Whoa whoa whoa...

      Watson and Crick didn't use a microscope. Watson and Crick were (iirc) chemists who built models of molecules and tried to create a model that represented a chemical which had the properties of observed dna. When they did their work microscopes capable of looking at molecules up close and personal did not exist. X-ray crystalography was as close as it got. There was some lady in Britain who was working on the DNA problem at the same time, who (in some people's opinion, including mine, n

      • Re:no microscope (Score:4, Informative)

        by noewun ( 591275 ) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @08:09PM (#9838713) Journal
        Her name was Rosalilnd Franklin, and Crick actively fought against her getting any credit. He was a right bastard, by all accounts. 63_01.html []

        • by reptilicus ( 605251 ) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:21PM (#9839250)
          Can you provide any evidence of Crick trying to prevent Franklin from getting due credit? Crick and Franklin remained friends up until her death and were frequent correspondents. Watson and Crick acknowledged Franklin in their original paper, which was published along with papers by Franklin and Wilkins in the same issue of Nature. A few weeks before Watson and Crick put the pieces together, Franklin went around her university hanging up signs declaring the "death of the double helix".

          Let's be clear here, there were strong biases against women scientists at the time (and many still exist today). But she did not make the conceptual leap that Watson and Crick made. She never seemed to bear any ill will towards them, and was just happy that the truth was known. People in science get scooped all the time.

          Sure, Watson made sexist and derogatory comments about Franklin in "The Double Helix", although one could argue that he made rude comments about nearly everyone involved. If you're angry at anyone, you should be angry at the Nobel committee who chose to wait until after Franklin's death to award the prize (which can't be awarded posthumously).
        • Re:no microscope (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Fnkmaster ( 89084 ) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:55PM (#9839512)
          I would venture to say that your claim is beyond ludicrous. Yes, I knew Dr. Crick personally and the rest of his family as well. Anybody who knew him personally will tell you that though he did have quite an intellect and was not shy about it (especially in his younger days, apparently), he was beyond uninterested in credit. Watson is, was and always has been the guy running around, giving speeches, getting in front of journalists and so on. Not saying Watson's a bad guy, but he loves basking in the glory of his scientific work. Francis Crick was a consummate scientist's scientist. He was genuine in his desire to have his privacy, hated giving interviews, and basically just loved talking to anybody who shared his intellectual interests.

          We had some fabulous conversations about the nature of consciousness last summer in La Jolla, and he went on for hours and hours about the work his friend Christoff Koch was doing at Caltech - but the conversation was never about taking credit for ideas or who did what.

          Wilkins went behind Rosalind Franklin's back and gave copies of her image data to James Watson. I don't believe that Crick even knew that he was looking at data without her permission. Regardless, he isn't the type of person to deny the credit she was due, nor to be shy about the fact that it was mostly he who deciphered the X-ray diffraction images. He was beyond uninterested in the politics side of science.

          Like Dr. Crick, I studied physics and once thought I wanted to be a physicist. We discussed this, and I explained my reasons for not pursuing graduate studies these days, due to the excessive politics involved and the nature of funding, being beholden to a professor's interests and so on. And he agreed that if he were graduating from college today, he might feel the same way.

          As for the "right bastard" part, like many scientists, and lots of people on Slashdot too, Dr. Crick was no social genius. He liked socializing with academics and people who would talk about ideas with him. But he always seemed to be a very decent person to me.

        • Her name was Rosalilnd Franklin, and Crick actively fought against her getting any credit.

          Franklin is a feminist hero, but here's a reality check: her science was wrong. She got her nitrogen the wrong way round, IIRC. It's not some Patriarchal White Male conspiracy.
    • Neither (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bstadil ( 7110 )
      They were playing with wooden balls that they had gotten made by the folks at Cavendish.

      Crick didn't even know what Watson was doing the night that he made the mock-up. As an interesting note there was a bit of slack in the way the wooden "lego" was made that allowed the correct answer to emerge despite a slight flaw in the idea.

      Lastly I think your joke was refering to Craig Venter [] that used his own DNA at Celera, Right?. I have a lot of respect for Venter despite his slight Megalomaniac tendencies

      • yeah i got involved in a little bruhaha in the other thread about him (venter) using his own dna. I didn't see anything wrong with it, but I guess I'm in the minority. I got threadjumped and no one seemed to take my side! so be it. He is a bit of an egomaniac but that doesnt mean he has bad science.
    • by stefanlasiewski ( 63134 ) * <slashdot AT stefanco DOT com> on Thursday July 29, 2004 @07:46PM (#9838521) Homepage Journal
      Well this is DNA, so there's no optical microscope involved.

      Rosalind Franklin used X-rays [] to clarify DNA's structure. Her research was then shown to Crick and Watson without her knowledge, and the two men were then able to decypher the structure of DNA.

      They got the Nobel Prize for their discovery. She wasn't included in the prize, even though she was critical in the discovery of the molecule's structure.
  • ...that is, life arriving at earth via DNA sent out from aliens.

    More on that theory in Wikipedia []. Interesting stuff!
  • by CSharpMinor ( 610476 ) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @07:34PM (#9838414)
    I would like to take this moment to recommend Francis Crick's The Astonishing Hypothesis [] to anyone interested in cognitive science. Although the theory of consciousness he espouses is somewhat uninteresting, the book does provide a good overview of the mechanisms by which the human brain functions, and it also describes the field of Cog Sci to some depth.
    • the theory of consciousness he espouses is somewhat uninteresting

      I beg to disagree. For me, "The Astonishing Hypothesis" is much more interesting than, e.g. Marvin Minsky's "The Society of Mind" or Stuart Kauffman's "At Home in the Universe" or (bleh!) Ray Kurzweil's "The Age of Spiritual Machines".

  • who do i turn to now when my dna breaks?
  • I rebooted a work machine that was named crick, after I heard. I figure that's like pouring a forty out on the pavement, right?

    (also it needed a kernel update)
  • Shee-it even in death Crick gets credit for someone else's work. Goddamn.
    • Barbara McClintock did not work on the structure of DNA, she won the Nobel Prize for her work on transposable DNA elements in maize. You are thinking of Rosalind Franklin.

  • The double helix structure of DNA . . . first published in 1953 won the Nobel Prize in 1962 . . . And the echos of this discovery are still being felt today.

    Perhaps this discovery is the discovery of "smallpox vaccine" or the "Laws of Motion" of genetic engineering . . . each of these discoveries, profound and novel as a standalone discovery, enabled and launched an entirely new series of scientific research and discoveries over a period of hundreds of years.

    300 years from now, we might say the same abou

  • The Dark Lady of DNA (Score:5, Informative)

    by Mad Martigan ( 166976 ) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @07:40PM (#9838475) Homepage
    I know that this article is about the passing of Crick, but it's nice to hear Rosalind Franklin recognized for her significant role in the discovery of the structure of DNA. Certinaly, Watson and Crick did a lot of work ... but they get a lot of credit too, including a nobel prize. Franklin didn't even get credit at the time of discovery because her photographs had been shown to Watson without her knowledge and they (Watson, Crick, and Wilkins) rushed their article to publication.

    Later on, more people learned of her contributions, but, sadly, she passed away in 1958 and was therefore ineligible for the 1962 Nobel prize that Watson, Crick, and Wilkonson shared. Without her name on the landmark publication or a Nobel prize, she has been largely forgotten.

    To read more about her story, you should check out the book The Dark Lady of DNA [].
    • by erikharrison ( 633719 ) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @07:57PM (#9838604)

      Here, here!

      Also, to clarify some other posts, Barbara McClintock, while a brilliant scientist who did some facintating genetic work (transposons being the most famous, but her work on crossing over also worth a look), was not the unsung female hero of the double helix. Unlike Franklin, who did get shafted, McClintock won the Noble Prize in 1983, just like she deserved. I am astounded how many people get righteous about the Rosalind Franklin, but use McClintock's name. Sad really, that she had so little hold that even her champions have forgotten her name.

    • nor should she.
      SHe should get the highest accolades for her pioneering work with XRays

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 29, 2004 @08:47PM (#9839005)
      According to the NY Times [] there were no hard feelings between her and Crick.

      Read this section:
      One of the problems caused by the book was Dr. Watson's implication that the pair of them had obtained Dr. Franklin's data on DNA surreptitiously and hence had deprived her of due credit for the DNA discovery. Dr. Crick believed he obtained the data fairly since she had presented it at a public lecture, to which he had been invited. Though Dr. Watson had misreported a vital figure from the lecture, a correct version reached Dr. Crick through the Medical Research Council report. If Dr. Franklin felt Dr. Crick had treated her unfairly, she never gave any sign of it. She became friends with both Dr. Crick and Dr. Watson, and spent her last remission from cancer in Dr. Crick's house.

      Hardly the miscredited dark lady some people claim her to be.
      • Agreed. That's the kind of person Dr. Crick was - he would always open his home up to a friend, especially somebody whose intellect he respected. The nasty vitriolic posts from uninformed Slashdotters everytime Crick is mentioned are not fair. She doesn't always receive fair credit for her contribution, true, but don't blame Crick. He didn't do politics, and he didn't do the credit game, and he had nothing to do with when the Nobel was awarded (which happened to be after her death).

        Of all the folks in

    • I've read their paper and they do mention Franklin near the end.
  • by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @07:44PM (#9838508) Homepage Journal
    I have the itchy feeling that that's too low a level to be looking for the basic building blocks of consciousness. As a metaphor, look at the circulatory system. Our basic units for desribing its functions are the heart with its chambers, and veins, etc. We don't really need to get to the cellular level to get the gist of it.

    It seems to me, and this is totally a gut feeling, that the basic 'units of consciousness' will be in nueral superstructers. I'm actually a supporter of a top down approach -- trying to tear apart things that are apparent to us in our consciousness --Woah! How about getting a definition of consciousness first -- and then trying to find what neurons are responsible for them. We're had more success this way -- finding which parts of the brain light up when we use language, recognize faces, solve math problems, etc.

    Furthermore, all the models of nuerons thinking use them as logic gates. That seems to imply to me that some consciousness researchers think the brain is a huge Turing machine -- again, this doesn't seem right to me, because Goedel's Theorem, as I understand, shows there are things a Turing machine can't compute. And if humans can understand Goedel's theorem, we must have something qualitatively different than a Turing machine up there.

    • How about getting a definition of consciousness first -- and then trying to find what neurons are responsible for them.

      This is one of the issues that Crick and Koch are always quick to address both in writing and in public talks. E.g. from .html []:

      (1) Everyone has a rough idea of what is meant by being conscious. For now, it is better to avoid a precise definition of consciousness because of the dangers of premature definition. Until the problem is

      • That's really interesting. I think the scientific understanding of consciousness is so limited compared to the understanding of a gene that the metaphor doesn't apply, or it proves the opposite point.

        From another tack, I think the gene metaphor doesn't really do the trick. People always assumed that the mechanism of inheritance was going to be physical, whether it was DNA, or protiens, or whatever. On the other hand, people seem to assume that consciouness is *non-physical*, like a spirit or soul. I guess

    • "Neuron", dammit. "Neuron"!!

      Besides, even beginning to speak of such things as "units" of consciousness is making many assumptions. I have an "itchy feeling" that the big C arises from a tremendously complex interaction across the many levels of analysis of brain (or "nEUral") structures (from protein phosphorylation to systems topography). The best unit we have to start with is the neuron, and thus neuron theory. They are clearly a computational unit, but nothing suggests an equivalently clear "unit" of c
    • Do get "The Astonishing Hypothesis" and read it carefully.

      We're had more success this way -- finding which parts of the brain light up when we use language, recognize faces, solve math problems, etc.

      Which success are you talking about? I haven't known of any success in explaining consciousness based on which parts of the brain use more energy when we do certain tasks.

      And if humans can understand Goedel's theorem, we must have something qualitatively different than a Turing machine up there.

      As Doug

      • "Which success are you talking about? I haven't known of any success in explaining consciousness based on which parts of the brain use more energy when we do certain tasks."

        Success as far as in, "This is Wernicke's area, this is where we put meaning together" or "This is Broca's area, this is where the brain decides how to move the parts of the mouth and throat in order to make speech". This is opposed to what came before, which was basically "We have no flipping clue, but it certainly is the brain that is

  • I will in honer have a pint in the eagle

    and thank you to all the people that worked on the Xray labs that made this discovery possible


    John Jones
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 29, 2004 @08:08PM (#9838694)
    His co-discovery of 'the secret of life' made him one of the most influential scientists of all time. In more recent years, he shifted his research efforts from molecular biology to neuroscience, with a particular interest in the question of the neural basis of consciousness.

    In the middle of the 20th century:

    Crick: We've done it! We've figured out how life's essence can be boiled down to simple chemical reactions!

    God: Aw, crap. Didn't mean for them to figure that out.

    Fast forward to the present day:

    Crick: That's it! It's so simple, how could I have missed it before! I've figured out how the soul's essence can be boiled down to simple neural combinations!

    God: Alright, boy, you've gone far enough. [Flips switch]

    Crick: Aaaah! [Hits floor]
  • The Theorist (Score:5, Insightful)

    by krmt ( 91422 ) <therefrmhere@yahoo . c om> on Thursday July 29, 2004 @08:40PM (#9838953) Homepage
    Crick was amazing, and a true genius, and acknowledged as such by just about anyone in the field of molecular biology. He and Watson basically invented the science of molecular biology, and it was really Crick who envisioned it whole and pushed the field in the direction that it still moves today. He was The Theorist, and one of the few who can claim the title of theoretical biologist with any sort of legitimacy (the other early molecular biology theorist was Jaques Monod) and his numerous papers pushed the field forward in many ways. The central dogma of molecular biology was his. He was one of the few people present who came up with the idea of how DNA sends a messenger (RNA) to ribosomes, which act as dumb machines to translate the message to a functional protein. This seems obvious now, but for a long time it wasn't, and we owe Crick, in no small part, for coming up with this. The man was a true genius and visionary, and he's long been one of my personal heroes. He deserves to be mourned the world over for all he helped build and give to it.
    • I don't know that I can add much to this, but your comments are among the most insightful here. Lots of people seem to want to attack Crick - I assure you, of all the famous scientists I've met (mostly at Harvard), he was far and away the truest to the profession, the most consummate pursuer of knowledge in all its forms, and the least attention or fame-craving of the lot. People like to attack the DNA contribution, the fact that Rosalind Franklin didn't get sufficient credit for the image she took (they
  • by reptilicus ( 605251 ) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:28PM (#9839300)

    This has been a particularly rough month for biologists as we also lost the great Ed Lewis [], Nobel prize winner and father of the homeobox.

  • On the topic of the neural basis of consciousness, there's a very interesting demo on this page []. In the video, try looking in the middle of the three yellow dots, surrounded by the swirling cloud of blue dots.

    After doing this for a bit, the yellow dots start blinking in and out of consciousness -- it's really quite a startling effect. Incidentally, the demo is on the site for a book titled The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach [], by Christof Koch, a close collaborator of the late Francis Cr
  • by mabu ( 178417 ) * on Friday July 30, 2004 @12:32AM (#9840570)
    A post on iPods elicits 500+ comments.

    A post on a pioneer of DNA research: under 200.

    Let's hope the next generation of iPod can cure cancer, or we're all fucked.

  • On this date (of Crick's death in 2004) in "1953: Scientists tell of 'secret of life' Crick and Watson unveil DNA" []. Crick was a really helical frood.
  • To be fair, the San Diego Union Tribune posted the story first [], and rightfully so since Crick died in San Diego.

    Word to the respective mothers of Union-Tribune staff writers Scott LaFee and Bruce Lieberman for a very good article.
  • ObLink to the fascinating 2003 Reith Lecture that BBC hosted, in text and audio form: []

  • Crick understood that the consciousness has neural basis. In the ideal world that should have pushed him towards cryonics and we wouldn't lose a great scientist. :( Why can't people think rationally about matters that concern them so much.

At work, the authority of a person is inversely proportional to the number of pens that person is carrying.