Francis Crick, who helped discover the double-helix structure of DNA, died 28 July after a long battle with colon cancer. He was 88. The discovery earned Crick and colleagues James Watson and Maurice Wilkins the 1962 Nobel Prize for medicine and revolutionized the fields of genetics and molecular biology.
Born in Northampton, England, in 1916 to a shoe manufacturer and his wife, Crick took to science early, conducting his first experiments before he was a teenager. He received a bachelor of science degree in physics from University College London in 1937, helped develop magnetic and acoustic mines for the British Navy during World War II, and earned his Ph.D. in 1954 at the University of Cambridge for using x-ray crystallography to decipher protein structures.
Crick met Watson at Cambridge in 1951, where they soon began working on one of the great mysteries of science: What was the structure of the molecule that stored each person's genetic information? Watson and Crick used their respective knowledge of genetics and x-ray diffraction, along with x-ray images from Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins, to determine the now iconic twisted ladder structure of DNA. The structure, published in 1953, immediately suggested a mechanism for DNA replication and has been the basis for everything from cloning to genetic engineering.
After the discovery, Crick continued to work on DNA, illuminating the mechanism by which DNA codes for proteins. Crick left the United Kingdom in 1976 to become a professor at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, where he began investigating the nature of human consciousness. In 1994, he published The Astonishing Hypothesis, a book that suggested that all aspects of human emotion and behavior could be understood by studying neural networks in the brain.
"He will go down as one of the most influential biologists of the 20th century," says Richard Murphy, president of the Salk Institute and a colleague of Crick's. Christof Koch, who collaborated with Crick on his consciousness studies, describes Crick as "the living incarnation of what it is to be a scholar," noting that the scientist continued to edit a manuscript on his death bed. According to Murphy, a new Crick-Jacobs Center for Computational and Theoretical Biology will be established at the Salk Institute to continue Crick's quest to understand the brain. Says Murphy, "His name will be listed among Darwin and Mendel as one of the true greats of science."
Biography of Crick on the Nobel Prize site
The history of DNA
Interactive site for learning about DNA and its applications, by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Read a review of The Astonishing Hypothesis published in Science
AAAS members can get a discount when ordering the book through the AAAS Bookstore