Francis Harry Compton Crick Biography (1916-)

molecular biologist

Francis Crick worked closely with James Watson and together they were able todeduce the structure of the deoxyribonucleic acid DNA molecule. This was very important because it showed that DNA, not protein as previously believed, was the actual carrier of genetic instructions for the cell. The Watson and Crick model reveals valuable information about the organization and operation of life itself. Their discovery is generally considered to be the most important scientific breakthrough of this century. Their model, originally constructed in 1953, showed the DNA molecule as consisting of two chains, each wrappedaround the same axis like a spiral staircase. These helical chains are madeof alternating units of phosphate and sugar molecules. Each side of the chainis connected by four base pairs which include adenine, thymine, guanine, andcytosine. Every base is attached at one end to a sugar molecule. The opposite end of the base molecule will only bind to its complementary base. For example, adenine is always chemically bound to thymine, and cytosine is always bound to guanine. This consistent, complementary pairing of the bases revealedhow DNA was able to make exact copies of itself and thus pass on hereditary information.

Crick was born in 1916 in Northampton, England. After graduating with a degree in physics from University College, London, he developed radar systems andmagnetic mines for the British military during World War II. In 1947, he worked at Strangeways Research Laboratory by day and studied biology in the evenings. He later moved to the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University. It was there that he first met James Watson and began work on the structure of DNA. Although Watson had to initially persuade Crick to work with DNA, it wasn't long before Crick enthusiastically embraced the project. Crick eventually became consumed with this mission and even named his house The Golden Helix after their working hypothesis.

Crick gained his Ph.D. from Caius College, Cambridge, in 1953. That same yearseveral other Cambridge scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in other areas of research. Nearly 10 years later, Francis Crick shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine with James Watson and Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins for their work with DNA.

With fellow workers at Cambridge University, Crick later studied the structure and function of the genetic code--the sequence of nitrogen bases in DNA that directs the joining of amino acids to build protein molecules. Crick is credited with developing the term "codon" as it applies to the set of three bases that code for one specific amino acid. These codons are used as "signs" toguide protein synthesis within the cell. As a result of his later work with Drs. Barnett, Brenner, and Watts-Tobin, Crick was able to formulate a set of general properties of the genetic code. He has also used the common Escherichia coli bacteriophage to study genetic mutation mechanisms. In 1977, his distinguished status in the scientific community earned him a professorshipat the famous Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California. He continues to lead an active role in several areas of ongoing research today.

Recent Updates

July 28, 2004: Crick died on July 28, 2004, in San Diego, California.He was 88 and had been battling colon cancer. Source: New York Times,, July 29, 2004.

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