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Reviews - Medical classic

The blueprint of life

  • By: David Burne
  • Published: 18 December 2012
  • DOI: 10.1136/sbmj.e7978
  • Cite this as: Student BMJ 2012;20:e7978

  • The double helix—A book revival
    Rated: 3.5 out of 4

Fifty years ago, on 10 December 1962, the Nobel prize for physiology and medicine was presented to three scientists—Francis Crick, James Watson, and Maurice Wilkins. Between them, they had elucidated the structure and created the first model of one of the most important molecules in biology, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). This scientific trio had effectively discovered the blueprint of life.

In 1968, James Watson wrote The Double Helix, his version of the events surrounding the breakthrough. Contrary to what you might imagine, the book is far from dry or a difficult read. It documents not only Watson and Crick’s scientific progress, but also the personality clashes and ruthless behaviour of competing scientists scrapping for the same prize.

Watson and Crick were racing to develop their model of DNA before Linus Pauling, the most eminent chemist of the day. To do this, they often resorted to underhand tactics. For instance, they kept

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