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The idea of natural selection is formed


Would Darwin understand DNA?
Francis Crick Scientist
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Oh, he would’ve understood it very easily. Remember, he first… had to understand Mendelian genetics but he would’ve welcomed that very much because it solved a lot of problems that he was worried about, about so-called blending inheritance and… and the fact that it was particulate, and so on, he would have been very pleased with. And he was… sufficiently a… a scientist and a naturalist to appreciate the idea of the chromosomes in cells although that wasn’t the main level at which he worked. It would have been a little… take a little longer to explain to him, I think, about the nature of DNA because you have to explain the nature of organic chemistry which was only very… understood in a very primitive way in… in his time and certainly at the time he was doing most of his major work, and so on. So, once he’d got that, I think he would… he would be very happy to see there would be a molecular basis of replication because he had… makes odd remarks about… he had ideas about pan-genes and this, that and the other. I think he called them pan-genes or something like that, which were… those ideas were wrong and then he’d have been delighted, I think, to… to see it. And he wouldn’t have been at all put off by the complexities of the whole thing because, being a naturalist, he was used to the complexities of nature and… but nevertheless, he was a man who was looking for simple underlying principles, so I think he would have welcomed it very much.

The late Francis Crick, one of Britain's most famous scientists, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962. He is best known for his discovery, jointly with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins, of the double helix structure of DNA, though he also made important contributions in understanding the genetic code and was exploring the basis of consciousness in the years leading up to his death in 2004.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Charles Darwin

Duration: 1 minute, 22 seconds

Date story recorded: 1993

Date story went live: 08 January 2010