New York - On April 10, Christie’s New York will offer a letter from Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the structure and function of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), to his son, outlining the revolutionary discovery, dated 19 March 1953 (estimate: $1-2 million). The 7 page handwritten letter expresses Crick’s personal excitement of the recognition of the double helix structure of DNA. The letter was addressed to Francis’s son, Michael Crick, who was twelve at the time and at a British boarding school and was instructed to “Read this carefully so that you understand it. When you come home we will show you the model.”
Francis Harry Compton Crick (1916-2004)
Francis Crick was born in Northampton, England in 1916, to a family which ran a successful shoemaking firm. Crick studied physics at University College in London, but his studies were interrupted by service in World War II. During the war he worked as a scientist for the British Admiralty, where he contributed important work in connection with magnetic and acoustic mines. Crick left the Admiralty in 1947 to study biological research at the Strangeways Laboratory in Cambridge. In 1949, he transferred to the Cavendish Laboratory, headed by Nobel Laureate Sir Lawrence Bragg. He would join the new unit there established by the Medical Research Council (MRC) to study protein structure using X-rays alongside future Nobel laureates Max Perutz and John Kendrew. Crick was 33 years old and still a graduate student when the young American, James D. Watson arrived at the Cavendish. He and Crick believed the structure of DNA could be determined through a combination of data and theory, and model-building to see which structures made the most sense. Watson’s carefully constructed models showing the base pairs were critical, while the data they worked with included crucial information from Franklin’s X-ray research, which determined that DNA was helical among other characteristics. In 1962, Crick, Watson and Maurice Wilkins received the Nobel Prize in medicine for their work at the Cavendish Laboratory and at the University of Cambridge. In 1977, Crick became professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, where he did brain research. Most of his scientific papers are at The Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine in London.
Excerpts from the letter
Jim Watson and I have probably made a most important discovery. We have built a model for the structure of de-oxy-ribose-nucleic-acid (read it carefully) called D.N.A. You may remember that the genes of the chromosomes – which carry the hereditary factors – are made up of protein and D.N.A. Our structure is very beautiful…
Now we believe that the D.N.A. is a code. That is, the order of the bases (the letters) makes one gene different from another gene (just as one page of print is different from another)…
In other words we think we have found the basic copying mechanism by which life comes from life. You can understand that we are very excited. Read this carefully so that you understand it. When you come home we will show you the model.
Lots of love, Daddy.”
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