|Who Will Be First?
It was, in fact, a rush job. Pauling knew that DNA was important; he knew that Wilkins
and Franklin were after it and that Watson and Crick had already made an attempt.
He knew that it was a relatively simple structure compared to proteins. And he knew
that whoever got out a roughly correct structure first - even if it was not quite
right in all its details - would establish priority for a very significant discovery.
That is what he was aiming for: not the last word on DNA but the first. He wanted
the initial publication that would be cited by all following. It did not have to be
The hurried haphazardness of the Pauling-Corey paper can best be understood by comparison
to Pauling's protein work. Pauling's alpha helix was the result of more than a decade
of off-and-on analysis and thousands of man-hours of meticulous crystallographic work.
Before he published his model, his lab pinned down the structure of the amino-acid
subunits to a fraction of a degree and a hundredth of an angstrom. There was an abundance
of clean x-ray work available on the subject proteins, allowing Pauling to scrutinize
and eliminate dozens of alternative structures. Two years passed between the time
he came up with the rough idea for his helix and the time he published it. Much of
that interval was spent with Corey, overseeing and refining the precise construction
of a series of elaborate three-dimensional models. None of that went into DNA.
See Also: Letter from Gerald Oster to Linus Pauling. February 3, 1953.
See Also: Letter from Linus Pauling to Peter Pauling. February 4, 1953.
See Also: Letter from Linus Pauling to Jerry Donohue. February 10, 1953.
See Also: Letter from Alexander Todd to Linus Pauling. February 10, 1953.
See Also: Letter from Linus Pauling to Peter Pauling. February 18, 1953.
See Also: Letter from Linus Pauling to Alexander Todd. February 19, 1953.
See Also: Letter from Alexander Todd to Linus Pauling. March 4, 1953.
See Also: Letter from Linus Pauling to Peter Pauling. March 10, 1953.
See Also: Letter from Daniel Mazia to Linus Pauling. March 11, 1953.
See Also: Letter from Linus Pauling to Alexander Todd. March 12, 1953.
Click images to enlarge
"Structure of the nucleic acids." February 1953.
Linus Pauling and Robert Corey examining models of protein structure molecules. approx. 1951.
"The glib assumption that he could have come up with it - Pauling just didn't try.
He can't really have spent five minutes on the problem himself. He can't have looked
closely at the details of what they did publish on base pairing, in that paper; almost
all the details are simply wrong"