March 25, 2013
Historic Letter Detailing DNA Structure To Be Auctioned Off
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
A handwritten letter sent from one of the scientists responsible for discovering the structure of DNA will be auctioned off next month in New York City, according to various media reports.
In the letter, which was written on March 19, 1953, British molecular biologist and biophysicist Francis Crick explains to his then-12-year-old son Michael how he and colleague James Watson were able to create a model for the genetic information-carrying molecule while working at a Cambridge research laboratory.
“We have built a model for the structure of des-oxy-ribose-nucleic-acid, (read it carefully) called DNA for short,” Dr. Crick — who later won a Nobel Prize for his work — wrote, according to Richard Gray of The Telegraph. “In other words we think we have found the basic copying mechanism by which life comes from life.”
According to the Daily Mail, he also drew a rudimentary diagram of the now well-known double-helix structure of the DNA molecule, calling it “very beautiful” and attempting to explain it in simple terms by referring to is as a “very long chain with flat bits sticking out, called the ℠bases´.”
Dr. Crick also told his son, “We have two of these chains winding round each other — each one is a helix — and the chain, made up of sugar and phosphorus, is on the outside and the bases are all on the inside“¦ Now the exciting thing is that while there are four different bases we find we can only put certain pairs of them together.”
Dr. Crick was born in the UK but later relocated to California. He, Watson and Maurice Wilkins were presented with the Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine in 1962, and he passed away in 2004 at the age of 88. Michael Crick, now 72, received the letter weeks before the discovery was revealed to the public. Now, he has decided to auction it off in honor of the 60th anniversary of his father´s discovery.
“On March 19 my father wrote to me describing the model and its implications. I was 12 at the time and away at Bedales — a British boarding school,” he told Gray. “That singular moment on February 28, 1953, when all the pieces suddenly fitted together has to go down as one of the great moments in the history of science.”
“The excitement of the event was beautifully captured for the first time in this perfect letter summarizing the nub of the discovery in seven simple pages,” Crick added. He has also promised to donate a “significant” percentage of the proceeds from the auction to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California, where his father worked for nearly three decades after arriving in America.
The letter will be auctioned off on April 10 at Christie´s in New York. Based on various published reports, it is expected to fetch somewhere between $1.8 and $2.2 million (£1.3 to £1.5 million).