June 2, 2023

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The Secret of Figure 51.. How has the history of science downplayed Rosalind Franklin’s role in discovering the structure of DNA? | Science

Getting Rosalind Franklin’s story right is important. Because she became a role model for women in science, she faced discrimination and her intelligence deserves respect and celebration.


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

In light of the 70th anniversary of the groundbreaking discovery that changed the world, new papers have shown – 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. His unpublished images and measurements help us understand how the structure of DNA assembles.

Rosalind Franklin was instrumental in discovering the structure of DNA (Getty Images).

Rewrite the story

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

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

It cites previously overlooked documents, including a draft news article written in 1953 in consultation with Franklin and a letter from a colleague to Crick.

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The two scientists confirmed that Franklin had made many precise measurements of X-ray diffraction images, and recorded their data in an informal report. It revealed that the genetic material that encodes all forms of life takes the form of two twisted strands held together by chemical threads, and its role appeared to be much deeper than we thought.

Figure (51) X-ray diffraction of crystallized DNA (Flickr)

Image Secret (51)

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

Maurice Wilkins (and Franklin’s colleague) showed the image to James Watson without his consent or knowledge, and Crick and Watson used the properties and features of the image to construct a chemical model of the “DNA” molecule (51).

Since the diffraction pattern in the image determines the helical nature of the two double helix chains (antiparallel), the image provided essential information for the development of the model. Watson and Crick’s calculations (51) from the image provided substantial data and important 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 credit and appropriate status as the discoverer of the double helix structure of DNA (Getty Images).

Badass heroine

Franklin died shortly after the discovery of ovarian cancer, and in 1962 the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to Watson, Crick, and Wilkins, and not to Franklin, because the Nobel Prize’s laws dictate that it be awarded to a living person. Only, therefore his role in the invention is ignored.

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This new account of the origin story confirms that Rosalind Franklin deserves recognition and appropriate status as the discoverer of DNA’s double-helix structure based on her key insights and data.

But fails to appreciate and acknowledge its contributions, institutional policies, lack of integrity and prejudices; This led to her being sidelined and becoming the “oppressed heroine”.

Researchers argue that it is important to properly rewrite Franklin’s story. As she became a role model for women in science, she faced discrimination, her intelligence should be honored and celebrated, not portrayed as a victim, and her contribution to the discovery of the double helix should be recognized and celebrated.