|Caltech vs. Cambridge
At the Royaumont meeting, Pauling talked with a group about solving DNA the way he
had solved the alpha helix: using precise x-ray work to confirm the structure of its
building blocks, as Corey and his coworkers had done with amino acids. Do the nucleotides
first, he said. Nail down the precise form of the bases and their relationship to
the sugars and phosphates, then make a model of the most chemically probable long-chain
structure that they would form. Jim Watson was there. And he paid close attention.
But when Pauling returned to Caltech in September 1952, he continued to work almost
exclusively on proteins. "The field of protein structure is in a very exciting stage
now," he wrote. "I have a hard time to keep from spending all of my time on this problem,
with the neglect of other things."
That same fall, Pauling's son Peter arrived in Cambridge to work as a graduate student
in Kendrew's laboratory. Peter Pauling, twenty-one, breezy, fun loving, more interested
in the structure of Perutz's Danish au pair girl, than in the structure of proteins
- "slightly wild," according to Crick - immediately fell in with Crick and Watson
and their new office mate, Jerry Donohue, another Caltech expatriate who arrived on a Guggenheim after working for years with
Pauling. Peter Pauling and Donohue were both in correspondence with Pauling and he
with them. Their office talk provided Crick and Watson with at least a small idea
of what Pauling was up to, and their letters provided the same service in reverse
It was becoming clear that others were in the race for DNA.