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New twists in double helix discovery story are uncovered
Date:9/29/2010

xplains, "Maurice Wilkins on the one hand wanted to be open he believed science should be open and was all in favor of cooperation, the exchange of ideas and data; but on the other hand, he was also mindful of his own career: he knew he had to get results and publish papers." As the upstarts Watson and Crick, then unknowns, jockeyed for permission at Cambridge to explore the DNA structure problem, Wilkins, at King's College, was already well engaged in experimentation that would prove vital in determination of the solution. Wilkins' boss at King's, John Randall, hired Rosalind Franklin and had, unknown to Wilkins, assured her that she was in "sole charge" of the DNA work at King's. This led to conflicts between Franklin and Wilkins, who assumed he and Franklin would be partners.

This was but the beginning of a series of now historic misunderstandings. Between the lines of the newly discovered Crick letters with Wilkins, one grasps, on Wilkins' end, the anguish, and on Crick's, what at times comes across as the self-assurance and jocularity of the player possessing superior position.

This is but a fraction of the newly found letters, which were uncovered unexpectedly in the midst of an archival collection of materials donated to Cold Spring Harbor by Sydney Brenner, the distinguished molecular biologist and Nobel laureate, who worked alongside Crick following discovery of the double helix. The two shared an office at Cambridge from 1956 to 1977. Coincidentally, the CSHL Press has just released a new biography of Brenner by Errol Friedberg.

Among the new letters there are some 30 between Crick and George Gamow, dating to 1953-64. Other of his correspondents included Leo Szilard, C.P. Snow, and J. Robert Oppenheimer, among many others. The most important of the new letters, cited in the Gann-Witkowski paper, are now in the process of being digitized at the CSHL Archives (http://library.cshl.edu)
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Contact: Peter Tarr
tarr@cshl.edu
516-367-8455
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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