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George Gamow and the RNA Tie Club


The length of a strand of DNA
Francis Crick Scientist
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The odd thing is, because we originally drew a turn and-a-half of DNA and because the model we built was not much more than the turn or so. Of course, we knew that it was an extremely long molecule, but I notice a number of people got the idea that that was the size of the DNA molecule. You know, there’s a… there’s a painting by Salvador Dalí, a great big painting in a bank called, I don't know, 'Deoxyribo-something or the other, homage to Watson and Crick', and it’s got bits of DNA in and they're all a turn and-a-half, I mean, it’s bizarre, you see. So one… one now tries when people do illustrations you try and tell them, you know, first of all please get it right-handed. If… you have to be careful because if you print a right-handed thing it becomes left-handed, so one Israeli stamp got it the wrong way around, I think. And the other thing is, make… try and draw it so… give the impression it’s a very, very, very long thing, like a piece of string as we say, a great big ball of string and that’s quite a short piece of DNA, just a ball of string. And so, it is a misunderstanding and it… it’s due to the fact that you don’t… if you want to build molecules where the atoms are a reasonable size then you don’t want to build things miles long because it's just… you want to get over the general features of the structure which you can see in quite short… short length of it, so….

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: Salvador Dalí, James Watson

Duration: 1 minute, 21 seconds

Date story recorded: 1993

Date story went live: 08 January 2010