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NATS 1760 Lecture Notes - Patent Office, Human Genome Organisation, Maurice Wilkins

Natural Science
Course Code
NATS 1760
Vera Pavri

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March 6, 2012
The race to find the structure of DNA took place in the mid 20th century
After WWII, scientists were well aware that DNA is the key to understanding the secrets of human
heredity. However, following WWII, the key question was how DNA looked like because no
scientists could effectively work with DNA if they didn’t know the structure
As such following WWII, scientists who had spent much of their time involved in a project leading
to human death and devastation, became interested in a project that was key to unlocking the
secret to human life
“Race” to find structure of DNA – it was a race amongst scientists in the mid 20th century
scientists around the world were competing with one another, trying to be the first to uncover the
secret of the structure of DNA. They did so knowing that if they were the first at the finish line, it
would mean great reward for them (i.e., scientific prestige, enhanced reputation, their name
would be written in the history books)
Many of the controversies came from the way in which scientists conducted themselves during
this period of time many ethical and moral questions will be raised
The race to find the structure of DNA is also a story that highlights the relationship between
gender and science
It is Watson and Crick whose names are synonymous with finding the structure of DNA
Controversy surrounding the race:
o Ethical and moral questions were raised
o Issues related to gender and science how difficult it was for females scientists to work in
what was predominantly a male environment
1st Group to work on the DNA structure: Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins
o Franklin went to work with Wilkins and their role was to try to find out what the structure
of DNA looked like
o From the very beginning, this was a problematic relationship. Almost from the start, they
didn’t get along with each other because their personalities clashed. Franklin was very
outgoing and forthright, whereas Wilkins did not like that so much, he was very laid back
and uncomfortable with the way Franklin worked
o Also, there were problems in terms of their research as well (e.g., when Franklin came to
work in the University of London she assumed that there would be a partnership between
her and Wilkins. Wilkins, however, was under the impression was going to be his assistant,
thus causing problems
Rosalind Franklin specialized in a technique called X-ray crystallography, which entails taking
images of DNA, and then attempt to determine its structure through an analysis of these pictures.
The pictures are not clear-cut Polaroid pictures where the image itself would be obvious. Rather,
these were blurred images where one would have to closely analyze and look for a structure that
was still not well known
Problematic relationship: Franklin, using X-ray crystallography techniques had created two
different sets of photographs (A and B). As such, she wanted to work on one set, while Wilkins
wanted to work on the other
Problems with nature of Franklin’s work: Franklin often claimed that at the University of London,
she was treated more like a technician, than an actual scientist. Recall: throughout most of history,

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science had often been regarded as a more superior discipline than that of technology. Given
Franklin’s work was more technical in nature, it should be no surprise that certain individuals
tended to downplay this type of work
In addition, Franklin had many problems as a female scientist working in a predominantly male
field she worked at a university, which at this time, there were many male-only locations within
the university setting (i.e., male-only dinning rooms and lounges). As such, Franklin was excluded
for these participating in these particular domains
o Significance: Recall that social spaces were places where researchers and scientists would
come together to discuss and exchange ideas (both in formal and informal locations). As
such, while Franklin might have had access to places such as laboratories, she did not have
access to these more important social spaces were much collaboration would have taken
2nd Group: James Watson and Francis Crick Crick came to Cambridge University interested in
the area of physics, but came increasingly interested in the structure of DNA after being exposed
to Watson’s work.
Their method was different included a process of model building. Watson and Crick build 3-D
models in hopes of getting to that all important answer of what DNA looked like.
They had a very good relationship with one another, but were behind in their research as opposed
to other groups like Franklin and Wilkins
Crick and Watson, being in such close proximity to Franklin and Wilkins, got to know each other.
While Franklin had a good relationship with Watson and Crick, Wilkins will become very good
friends with them during this time. This relationship extended beyond their research (i.e., they’d
go to pubs together etc.). Also it was not uncommon for these individuals to talk with each other
about their research in fact, it was Wilkins and Franklin who showed Watson and Crick some of
the many errors that they had in terms of their initial models associated with the structure of DNA
Word came out in the U.S that Linus Pauling had come up with the actual answer. Because
Pauling had such a good reputation in the field, when the initial news came out, there was a belief
amongst many that the race was over. However, over time people realized that while Pauling was
on the right track towards figuring out what DNA looked like, he had not come up with the right
o He suggested that the structure of DNA resembled a helix and this is what is going to get
researchers on the right path
As this was happening, the relationship between Franklin and Wilkins continued to deteriorate. By
this period of time, Franklin is ready to leave the University of London she was going to leave to
pursue research in another field altogether
Controversy surrounding ethics of research:
o Franklin had created two sets of photographs. She was currently analyzing one set of
photographs, but in the course of their research, Watson and Crick became interested in
looking at Franklin’s other set of photographs
o Wilkins, without telling Franklin, shows Watson and Crick her research in other words,
Watson and Crick were able to view Franklin’s work without her knowledge. This is crucial
to the story because very shortly afterward it is Watson and Crick who will come up with
the correct structure of DNA. They created a model which showed that DNA does not
resemble a helix, as Pauling had suggested but rather a double helix (two ladders that are
intertwined with one another)
This theory of DNA looking like a double helix proves to be correct
Watson and Crick published their findings in one of the most prestigious journals called Nature in
1953, and about a decade later, they were given a Nobel Prize, and it was shared with Wilkins, but
not by Franklin (by this time she had passed away)

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There is controversy surrounding whether or not Franklin would have been given credit at all for
her contributions
E.g., when Watson and Crick were asked if Franklin’s photograph had played a role in their
discovery, they for many years, minimized her contribution. The held that the photograph
confirmed what they already knew. However, anyone looking at the second set of photographs
was likely to see the structure of DNA as a double helix, therefore, if Franklin had gotten around to
analyzing the second set of photographs, perhaps she would have made this discovery before
Watson and Crick
There is much debate as to Rosalind’s feelings during this time. Some historians suggest that
Franklin was extremely bitter about the way in which her work was used without her knowledge,
others argue that Rosalind couldn’t care less what Watson and Crick did with her work since she
was already interested in pursuing other scientific fields during this time
Rosalind’s name had been eliminated from the discussion of the structure of DNA
Issues of gender: one of the reasons why it will take so long for Rosalind’s work to be
acknowledged was in large part due to the work of James Watson
After receiving credit for the discovery of DNA, Watson wrote a famous book called The Double
Helix a small publication for the public to get a greater understanding of the process of this all-
important discovery
o In this book, we see an unfair representation of Rosalind Franklin
Throughout the entire book, he refers to Rosalind as “Rosie”. He talks about Franklin
as a “belligerent” woman who could not keep her emotions under control and who
did not know how to interpret her own data
He talked about her as Wilkins’ assistant – incapable and unworthy of Nobel prize-
caliber work - given that this book was widely read in relation to the discovery,
Franklin’s contributions were minimized for so long.
In fact, it wasn’t until the 1970s that feminist historians of took a much closer look
at what Franklin had done during this time
When we talk about the race to find the structure of DNA, we can see there are many problems
whether or not they gave her enough credit where credit was due
After the discovery of DNA, the next logical step had been for scientists to find out what DNA
looked like. So, when that was confirmed, scientists and researchers became interested in how to
control and manipulate DNA this became a major area for scientists in the late 50s, 60s and 70s,
By the early 1970s, scientists were able to successfully manipulate DNA cell structure this meant
manipulating animal and plant DNA as well. This led to new techniques associated with the
manipulation od DNA including a new technique during this period of time called genetic cloning
o E.g., Human hormone today, genetic cloning is not just about human hormones, but also
about the cloning of species as well (plants, animals and humans)
This began to gain popularity during the 1980s
Office of Heath and Environmental Research in the U.S and the U.S Department of energy were
interested in mapping the human genome why was the U.S Department of energy interested?
In the 1980s, the U.S Department of Energy had a number of genetic researchers working for this
particular organization. Many geneticists were working for this department because during the
60s, 70s and 80s, the U.S was at the height of cold war tensions with the Soviet Union. One of the
U.S’s biggest fears was the atomic bomb, thereby the U.S Department of Energy had hired many
genetic researchers to look into questions involving the effects of radiation on the human body
During the 1980s, the effects of the Cold War are dying out, therefore the idea of mapping the
human genome represented a new project for these geneticists to be involved in
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