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The secret of picture 51.. How did scientific history diminish the role of Rosalind Franklin in discovering the structure of DNA? | Sciences

Getting the Rosalind Franklin story right is important. Because she became a role model for women in the field of science, as she faced discrimination and her brilliance was worthy of honor and celebration.


This week, 70 years ago, news spread that scientists had discovered the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, known as “DNA”, and described in 3 consecutive researches published in the famous scientific journal “Nature” on April 25, 1953.

In light of the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the dazzling discovery that changed the world, new documents showed – for the first time – that Rosalind Franklin played a key role in discovering the structure of DNA, and that James Watson and Francis Crick relied on her unpublished images and measurements to understand how to assemble the structure of DNA.

Rosalind Franklin played a key role in discovering the structure of DNA (Getty Images)

Rewrite the story

Two scientists revealed more details about Franklin’s contribution to uncovering the DNA double helix. According for an article To be published in the journal Nature on April 25, Rosalind Franklin, a physical chemist at King’s College London, was a key player in the discovery of DNA, but was let down by her team at King’s College London.

“These documents point to a different account of the discovery of the double helix,” zoologist Matthew Cobb and medical historian Nathaniel Comfort wrote. “Franklin did not fail to understand the structure of DNA; she was also involved in solving its structure.”

The article cites previously overlooked documents, including a draft news article from 1953 written in consultation with Franklin, and a letter from a colleague to Crick, which indicates that she independently understood how the structure of DNA could make proteins.

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The two scientists confirmed that Franklin made many accurate measurements of X-ray diffraction images, and recorded their data in an informal report. And it revealed that the genetic material that encodes all forms of life takes the form of two twisted threads held together by chemical threads, and it appeared that its role was more profound than we thought.

Image (51) is of X-ray diffraction of crystallized DNA (Flickr)

picture secret (51)

Image (51) is the name given to the X-ray diffraction image of crystalline DNA, taken by Raymond Gosselin in May 1952 while he was a PhD student under Franklin’s supervision at King’s College London, and was a crucial piece of evidence in determining the structure of DNA.

Maurice Wilkins (and was a colleague of Franklin) showed James Watson the image without her consent or knowledge, and Crick and Watson used the characteristics and features of the image (51) to develop a chemical model of the “DNA” molecule.

The image provided key information that was essential for the development of the model, as the diffraction pattern in the image determined the helical nature of the two double helix chains (antiparallel). Watson and Crick’s calculations from image (51) gave substantial data and key measurements of the size and structure of their spiral model, and the observations were used to validate their theoretical model of DNA.

Rosalind Franklin deserves recognition and appropriate status as the discoverer of the double helix structure of DNA (Getty Images)

Wretched heroine

Franklin died shortly after the discovery due to ovarian cancer, and in 1962 the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to Watson, Crick and Wilkins, and it was not awarded to Franklin because the laws of the Nobel Prize stipulated that it should be awarded to the living only, and therefore her role in the discovery was ignored.

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This new account of the origin story makes a compelling case that Rosalind Franklin deserves recognition and appropriate standing as the discoverer of the double helix structure of DNA based on her pivotal insights and data.

But the failure to appreciate and acknowledge its contributions, institutional policies, lack of integrity, and prejudices; This led to her being marginalized and turned into an “oppressed heroine”.

The researchers argue that it is important to properly rewrite Franklin’s story. Because she became a role model for women in science, where she faced discrimination, her brilliance was to be honored and celebrated, not portrayed as a victim, and her contributions to the discovery of the double helix should be recognized and celebrated.