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After Rosalind Franklin's death


Rosalind Franklin and the discovery of DNA
Aaron Klug Scientist
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We now know what Rosalind didn't know – that they had seen the MRC report in 1952. But to this day I don't know whether she... how much she knew of what they... she must have suspected that Crick and Watson must have known a good deal about her work but none of it was published other than the MRC report. But I don't know that she knew that they had read this report, it was supposed to be... well, it wasn't confidential it was... it was meant to be only for MRC units. So I don't want to go into the whole story, I've written about this, as you know, on the 50th anniversary. But I think the... the degree of confidentiality is in dispute but there's no question that apart from Maurice Wilkins showing Jim Watson, Rosalind Franklin's photograph, which made his eyes open, and which he hadn't seen before, there was also the MRC report circulated by MRC units which gave the critical dimensions which they could deduce the diameter of the helices and gave all the... so between that they had all the information to build the model. But... so, Watson's book, this only came out when Jim Watson published his book, The Double Helix. You know the original was going to be called Honest Jim, he's telling the truth, but that's a play on Lucky Jim Kingsley Amis, one of the novels at the time. So the... he... well, what should have happened though, when they wrote their paper in 1954 on the... how they arrived at the double helix, with the base paring, of course, Watson got the base paring, there's no question about that. But the fact is that the framework the... the double helix structure was based by Crick understanding, the implications of the space group symmetry that Franklin described. There's no... now, what they should have done, they should have, when they wrote the paper, is to acknowledge this, it wouldn't have diminished their achievement to do it. And I discussed this with both Crick and Watson; Jim, Jim Watson says, 'Ah, I didn't say... describe the C2 monoclinic symmetry because I didn't use it, and that's true.' He didn't use it explicitly but the fact is that Francis did when he built the double; he built the two chain double helix with the chains in opposite directions. And he did that, and it was that that enabled Watson to put his base pairs into the double helix. So there's no question that Rosalind should have been cited and should have been cited. And I... so, I've discussed this with both of them. Francis thought that it was in the paper, and he thought that they had mentioned it. He says he didn't deliberately not mention it, but Jim wrote part of that paper, it's hard to say who wrote what. I can detect, I know their styles, I can detect bits of both but, then, of course, they both worked and re-wrote it. But this long controversy is, well... we talk about Rosalind and DNA, what she told me, and I've described this in my papers, she said, 'I could have kicked myself', those were her exact words to me. 'I could have kicked myself not... for not realising that the two fold symmetry applied to... to the... to the A form as well as to the B form, to the B form as well as the A form.' And so, you see, the irony of it all is that Franklin, Wilkins and Stokes, all the three people at Kings had all been to lectures in Cambridge, they were all Cambridge graduates, and they'd all been to the Bernal's lectures in crystallography. And they actually were lectured on space groups, but, of course, this was all very abstract. The only person who understood the implication of the C2 monoclinic symmetry was Francis Crick, who hadn't done any form of crystallography but he had taught himself on the job, so to speak, and he became a Research student of Perutz. But Rosalind never complained, never, I never heard her complain, or whinge or anything about it, I think she regarded herself as... as, in fact, she admired them enormously, both of them.

Born in Lithuania, Aaron Klug (1926-2018) was a British chemist and biophysicist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1982 for developments in electron microscopy and his work on complexes of nucleic acids and proteins. He studied crystallography at the University of Cape Town before moving to England, completing his doctorate in 1953 at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1981, he was awarded the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University. His long and influential career led to a knighthood in 1988. He was also elected President of the Royal Society, and served there from 1995-2000.

Listeners: Ken Holmes John Finch

Kenneth Holmes was born in London in 1934 and attended schools in Chiswick. He obtained his BA at St Johns College, Cambridge. He obtained his PhD at Birkbeck College, London working on the structure of tobacco mosaic virus with Rosalind Franklin and Aaron Klug. After a post-doc at Childrens' Hospital, Boston, where he started to work on muscle structure, he joined to the newly opened Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge where he stayed for six years. He worked with Aaron Klug on virus structure and with Hugh Huxley on muscle. He then moved to Heidelberg to open the Department of Biophysics at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research where he remained as director until his retirement. During this time he completed the structure of tobacco mosaic virus and solved the structures of a number of protein molecules including the structure of the muscle protein actin and the actin filament. Recently he has worked on the molecular mechanism of muscle contraction. He also initiated the use of synchrotron radiation as a source for X-ray diffraction and founded the EMBL outstation at DESY Hamburg. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1981 and is a member of a number of scientific academies.

John Finch is a retired member of staff of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK. He began research as a PhD student of Rosalind Franklin's at Birkbeck College, London in 1955 studying the structure of small viruses by x-ray diffraction. He came to Cambridge as part of Aaron Klug's team in 1962 and has continued with the structural study of viruses and other nucleoproteins such as chromatin, using both x-rays and electron microscopy.

Tags: The Double Helix, Lucky Jim, Rosalind Franklin, Francis Crick, James Watson, Maurice Wilkins

Duration: 4 minutes, 43 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008