Jenni Gritters

Aug 7th 2020

Francis Crick and the History of DNA Discovery


Francis Crick was a biologist and neuroscientist whose story is intertwined with the fascinating history of DNA discovery. Crick is best known for discovering the helix structure of DNA, a discovery that changed the face of science as we know it.

Early Life

Crick was born on June 8, 1916, in Northampton, England. After primary school, he headed to University College London in 1937, where he studied physics and earned his Ph.D. in 1954, according to

Crick’s scientific career was unfortunately interrupted by World War II. During this period, he joined a military research team focused on the development of magnetic and acoustic mines. This work was interesting to him, according to the National Library of Medicine, but not interesting enough to keep him on a military track after the war ended. After the war, Crick moved to Cambridge to study biology with the support of a scholarship from the Medical Research Council.

The History of DNA Discovery

In 1951, Francis Crick met an American scientist named James Watson at the Cavendish Lab in Cambridge, which is where their famed collaboration began. In 1953, the duo constructed a model of the double helix shape we now associate with DNA. They speculated that if you split one side of the ladder from the other, each side would become a pattern for a new strand of DNA. This explanation was later used to inform the scientific understanding of how genes are replicated, noted.

Who Received the Credit?

Crick and Watson became known as the scientists who discovered DNA’s double helix structure after they published a groundbreaking paper in Nature in April 1953. However, their research relied primarily on work from the lesser known female chemist Rosalind Franklin. Franklin would not receive credit for her contribution to the research until after her death. Her male colleague, Maurice Wilkins, shared her research with Crick and Watson without her consent, while Watson, Crick and Wilkins received the Nobel Prize for their DNA work in 1962.

Crick’s Legacy

While minor changes have been made to the Watson and Crick model of DNA, it remains otherwise similar to its original construction from 1953. Based on Watson and Crick’s research, we know that DNA is a double-stranded helix. We also know that the two strands are connected by hydrogen bonds, with A bases mostly paired with Ts, while C bases are mostly paired with Gs. Nature also noted that most DNA double helices are right-handed and anti-parallel.

Crick continued to study molecular biology for the remainder of his life, and he wrote several books on the topic. He won many other prestigious science awards, including the Prix Charles Leopold Meyer of the French Academy of Sciences in 1961 and the Award of Merit of the Gairdner Foundation in 1962. He died in La Jolla, California in 2004 at the age of 88.