… in 1953, James Watson (1928- ) and Francis Crick (1916-2004) elucidate the helical structure of the DNA molecule.
Two names that resist the past of the time. Not as the same magnitude for Rosalind Franklin (London July 25, 1920 – London April 16, 1958).
Franklin was one of the first molecular biologists. She performed research on crystallographic structure of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), that led to the understanding and formulating of its structure.
She came into a well-to-do family, involved in social and public works. Franklin’s father wanted to be a scientist, but World War I cut down his education, forcing him instead to work as a college teacher. Rosalind decided at the age of 15 that she wanted to become a scientist. Her high valued education, due to that was one of the few institutions that taught physics and chemistry at that time, from St. Paul’s Girls School allowed her to enroll into Cambridge. She graduated on her doctorate in physical chemistry in 1945.
After that, she moved to Paris for three years (1947-1950) to work at Laboratoire Central des Services Chimiques de l’Etat. There, she learned about X-ray diffraction techniques. Without doubt, a key moment in her scientific career.
In 1951 she started as a researcher associate in John Randall’s laboratory at King’s College in London. She spent another three years solving the DNA structure through the crystallographic photographs.
By that time, Maurice Wilkins was one of the members of the Medical Research Council Biophysics at Research Unit. He also studied biological molecules as DNA using microscopes and spectrophotometers until he started to use X-ray technologies. In collaboration with Rosalind, a diffraction images of DNA molecules were obtained.
Frictions between Wilkins and Franklin existed. At this time, Wilkins showed Watson one of the Franklin’s pics of DNA, wich led to the deduction of the 3D helical conformation of DNA fromWatson and Crick.
Franklin was shocked by the publication of the results into an article in Nature magazine by Watson, Crick and Wilkins. Her work was published under a supporting article in the same issue of te journal.
Few years after, she dead at the age of 37 from ovarian cancer, as a consequence of exposing herself to the radioactive procedures of X-ray methods to obtaining photographs.
In 1962, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins (1916-2004) for solving the structure of DNA.
Photo: John Rollett, Durward Cruickshank, Rosalind Franklin. In the park below Uppsala Castle in 1951.