Linus Pauling and the Race for DNA: A Documentary History All Documents and Media  
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Key Participants

William T. Astbury
Oswald T. Avery
Sir William Lawrence Bragg
Erwin Chargaff
Martha Chase
Robert B. Corey
Francis H. C. Crick
Max Delbrück
Jerry Donohue
Rosalind Franklin
R. D. B. (Bruce) Fraser
Alfred D. Hershey
Linus Pauling
Peter J. Pauling
Max F. Perutz
J. T. (John Turton) Randall
Verner Schomaker
Alexander R. Todd
James D. Watson
Maurice H. F. Wilkins

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Maurice Wilkins.
Maurice Wilkins. 1960s.
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Maurice H. F. Wilkins

Former primary affiliation:
King's College London



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"I hope you'll write to Prof. J. T. Randall, Kings College, Strand, London. His coworker, Dr. M. Wilkins, told me he had some good fibre pictures of nucleic acid."

Gerald Oster. Letter to Linus Pauling. August 9, 1951.

"I gave Watson essentially the paper on nucleic acids, and after the 12th he showed it. Morris [sic] Wilkins is supposed to be doing this work; Miss Franklin evidently is a fool. Relations are now slightly strained due to the Watson-Crick entering the field. They (W.C.) have some ideas and shall write you immediately. It is really up to them and not to me to tell you about it. We tried to build your structure, and succeeded, I think, it was pretty tight. Perhaps we should try the new one. They are getting pretty involved with their own efforts, and losing objectivity."

Peter Pauling. Letter to Linus and Ava Helen Pauling. March 14, 1953.

"We felt we could hardly omit any mention of your structure nor did we feel it reasonable to suppress our doubts about it."

James Watson Francis Crick. Letter to Linus Pauling. March 21, 1953.

"A NOTE ABOUT HONEST JIM: Today Dr. Leonard Hamilton telephoned me from New York. He has been asked by Wilkins (with whom he has worked) and Crick to arrange that a lawyer write a letter to Pusey, President of Harvard, objecting to the publication by Harvard University Press of the book Honest Jim. He asked if I would be willing to join in. I said that I would like to know what was said in the letter, abut that I did authorize that I be referred to in the letter, as well as Wilkins and Crick. I also said that I would pay part of the legal expense. This does not, however, comit [sic] me, I said, to any further action, such as a libel suit."

Linus Pauling. Linus Pauling - Note to Self. Deer Flat Ranch, Salmon Creek, Big Sur, California (typed). May 4, 1967.

"Most people believe that Wilkins could have done it, and they are sure that Pauling could have done it before Watson and Crick, had he been given the data. It is interesting that when Corey went to King's in 1952, Rosalind Franklin took him into a lab and projected the DNA pictures, but Corey was a gentleman and did not attempt to convey this information, or did not remember it precisely enough to give it to Pauling."

Robert Olby. Interview with Gerald James Holton. Plenary Sessions of the Conference on Transforming Conceptions of Modern Science, Bellagio, Italy. September 1969.

" was Wilkins' experimental work that put Watson and Crick on the right track."

Linus Pauling. Linus Pauling oral history interview, American Philosophical Society. March 1, 1971.

"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"

Maurice Wilkins. The Eighth Day of Creation. 1979.

"Rosalind Franklin was a very intelligent woman, but she really had no reason for believing that DNA was particularly important. She was trained in physical chemistry. I don't think she'd ever spent any length of time with people who thought DNA was important. And she certainly didn't talk to Maurice [Wilkins] or to John Randall, then the professor at Kings."

James Watson. Nature, 302: 653. April 1983.

I discovered that Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling were working together on the structure of DNA, but not in collaboration with Wilkins. Moreover, they had the best DNA preparation. This was a preparation of calf thymus NaDNA that had been given to Wilkins some two years earlier by Rudolf Signer, of Bern, and from gels of which material Wilkins was able to draw thin, uniform fibres showing sharp extinction between crossed polarizers. Gosling and Wilkins had obtained X-ray diffraction photographs from these fibres indicating a high degree of crystallinity, and were a great improvement on those obtained earlier by W. T. Astbury and Florence Bell in their pioneering studies of DNA. They achieved this by passing hydrogen through water and then into the X-ray camera so that the fibres were kept in a moist atmosphere during the exposure.

Hugh Wilson. H. R. Wilson, "The double helix and all that," Reflections on biochemistry, TIBS 13. July 1988.

"Let's just start with the Pauling thing. There's a myth which is, you know, that Francis and I basically stole the structure from the people at King's. I was shown Rosalind Franklin's x-ray photograph and, Whooo! that was a helix, and a month later we had the structure, and Wilkins should never have shown me the thing. I didn't go into the drawer and steal it, it was shown to me, and I was told the dimensions, a repeat of 34 angstroms, so, you know, I knew roughly what it meant and, uh, but it was that the Franklin photograph was the key event. It was, psychologically, it mobilised us..."

James Watson. James Watson, Center for Genomic Research Inauguration, Harvard. September 30, 1999.

"In 1953 Maurice [Wilkins] cabled me in Australia to write a note from him to submit to Nature setting out details of my 1951 structure, but unfortunately he never sent it off...I managed to recover a copy of the 'note that was never sent' from Maurice. Unfortunately he could not locate the diagrams and I did not make copies (remember this was before the days of photocopiers!)"

R. D. B. Fraser. Personal communication with the OSU Libraries Special Collections. October 31, 2002.

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