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Letter from Linus Pauling to the Nobel Committee for Chemistry. March 15, 1960.
Pauling writes to offer his opinion of W. L. Bragg's nomination of James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins for the 1960 Nobel Chemistry Prize. Though he feels that their work is important, Pauling states that it is too early to grant Watson and Crick a Nobel Prize, owing to the small uncertainties still surrounding their structure. Pauling likewise notes that Wilkins' contributions are not sufficient to justify a Nobel Prize, but that the protein research of Robert Corey, John Kendrew and Max Perutz does deserve consideration.


15 March 1960

The Nobel Committee for Chemistry

Stockholm 50, SWEDEN


Professor Sir Lawrence Bragg has sent me a copy of his nomination of J. D. Watson, F. H. C. Crick, and M. H. F. Wilkins for the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for 1960, for their work on the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, and has suggested that I express my opinion.

The hydrogen-bonded double-helix for DNA proposed by Watson and Crick has had a very great influence on the thinking of geneticists and other biologists, and I believe that their idea is a valuable one. It is my opinion that there is little doubt that nucleic acid molecules have a complementary structure resembling in its general nature that proposed by Watson and Crick, and that the complementariness is determined by the formation of hydrogen bonds. The detailed nature of the structure of DNA is, I think, still uncertain to some extent, however, whereas that of polypeptide chains in proteins is now certain.

The first detailed structure to be proposed for the nucleic acids was a triple-helix structure, with hydrogen bonds between the phosphate groups, rather than between the nitrogen bases. This structure was proposed by Professor Robert B. Corey and me in Proceedings of the U. S. National Academy of Sciences 39, 84-87 (1953). Watson and Crick had a manuscript of this paper before publication, and may to some extent have been stimulated by this proposal to formulate their double-helix structure, as well as by the x-ray photographs of Wilkins.

The detailed structure proposed by Watson and Crick has been revised somewhat by Wilkins. Moreover, Robert B. Corey and I have pointed out that it is likely that cytosine and guanine form three hydrogen bonds, rather than two, as proposed by Watson and Crick (L. Pauling and R. B. Corey, Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics 65, 164-181 (1956). Also, Dr. K. Hoogsteen, an associate of Professor Robert B. Corey, has determined the structure of a simple compound of 1-methylthymine and 9-methyladenine, and has found that the hydrogen bonding is different from that assumed by Watson and Crick for the corresponding residues in the nucleic acids, which suggests the possibility that a further change in the structure of nucleic acid may be found necessary. I enclose reprints of the two papers by Professor Corey and me mentioned above and also of the paper by Dr. Hoogsteen.

It is my opinion that the present knowledge of the structure of polypeptide chains in proteins is such as to justify the award of a Nobel Prize in this field in the near future, to Robert B. Corey for his fundamental investigations of the detailed molecular structure of amino acids and the polypeptide chains of proteins or possibly divided between him and Kendrew and Perutz. On the other hand, I think that it might well be premature to make an award of a Prize to Watson and Crick, because of existing uncertainty about the detailed structure of nucleic acid. I myself feel that it is likely that the general nature of the Watson-Crick structure is correct, but that there is doubt about details.

With respect to Wilkins, I may say that I recognize his virtuosity in having grown better fibers of DNA than any that had been grown before and in having obtained x-ray photographs than were available before, but I doubt that this works represents a sufficient contribution to chemistry to permit him to be included among recipients of a Nobel Prize.

Wile [sic] I am discussing these matters, I should like to say that I regret that both W. M. Latimer and W. H. Rodebush are now dead, and that the recognition of the great importance of the hydrogen bond in molecules of living organisms (proteins and nucleic acids) as well as in simple substances was delayed until recently. Their discovery of the hydrogen bond, announced in the Journal of the American Chemical Society 42, 1419 (1920), can now be seen to be justified as the basis for the award of a Nobel Prize in Chemistry to them.

Sincerely yours,

Linus Pauling:jh


cc: Nobel Committee for Physics, Nobel Committee for Chemistry, Professor Sir Lawrence Bragg

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