Home THOUGHTFUL INDIAN The letter to a 12-year-old boy announcing the discovery of DNA

The letter to a 12-year-old boy announcing the discovery of DNA

Francis Crick (right) with James D. Watson, co-discoverers of the structure and function of DNA
Francis Crick (right) with James D. Watson, co-discoverers of the structure and function of DNA

In 1962 scientists Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkinswere jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine, a well-deserved award for their discovery – not without controversy – of the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Thanks to his work we were able to know the three-dimensional arrangement that contained the “secret of life”.

In 1953 scientists communicated their discovery of the double-helix model of DNA and represented the structure of the polymer. The finding was published in the prestigious journal Nature at the end of April of that year.

A few days earlier Francis Crick had sent a seven-page handwritten letter to his son Michael, who at that time was 12 years old and who was interned in a British school. In the letter he explained in great detail what the DNA consisted of and what it was composed of. As a parent he wanted to express and share the excitement with his son. It was the first time, although familiar, that the relevant biological discovery was reported.

My dear michael

The manuscript is illustrated with beautiful handwritten drawings by Francis Crick of the double helix of DNA with its sequence of bases, to make the discovery more understandable to his son. The letter begins by asking you to read it with great care because it is a historic breakthrough in the field of biology:

“My dear Michael,

Jim Watson and I have made a discovery that is probably very important. We have constructed a model for the acid-deoxyribo-nucleic structure (read carefully) called DNA for short.

In addition, from the emotional and affectionate part that a father has towards his son, it is very possible that the scientist had the strong conviction that the most complex matters of science have to be explained in an understandable and simple way.

The end of the epistle leaves no doubt about the importance of the finding, so in one of the paragraphs he writes:

“We believe that we have found the mechanism by which life comes from life.”

Finally, the scientist says goodbye to a simple “Daddy”

The letter was auctioned for $ 5.3 million
The letter was auctioned for $ 5.3 million

In the year 2013 Michael Crick decided to sell the manuscript with the goal of allocating half of the amount that was collected to the Salk Institute of Biological Studies of California, where his father worked at the end Of his life in different research projects.

The prestigious auction house Christie’s sold the document for the astronomical figure of $ 5.3 million – some four million euros – much more than the epic that Albert Einstein sent to Franklin D Roossevelt in 1939 Warning him of the dangers of nuclear technology.

A family endowed with good genes

Francis Crick’s grandfather, Walter Drawbridge Crick , was an amateur naturalist who came to sign with Charles Darwin himself and named two species of snails. Moreover, in April 1882 they both published an article entitled “On the Dispersion of Freshwater Bivalve Molluscs” in the journal Nature. At that time, Walter D. Crick could not imagine that someone in his family would publish an article as important as Darwin’s own in the same magazine 70 years later.

Michael Crick, the son of Francis Crick, initially followed in the footsteps of his father and graduated in biology at Harvard University, but later his career turned to computing, to the point of creating one of the first spellcheckers of the program Word .

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