ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Crick and Watson discover the DNA Double Helix

Updated on April 27, 2015

25th April 1953 is a date that should be commemorated worldwide, because it was on this day that the journal Nature published an article that would have far-reaching consequences.

The article was by two scientists from Cambridge University, James Watson and Francis Crick, and it announced their discovery of the molecular structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, which is better known by its initials as DNA. The discovery solved a problem that had puzzled scientists ever since Charles Darwin had published “The Origin of Species”, namely what the mechanism was by which living things were able to pass on the characteristics to the next generation, and what could cause changes to happen that would lead to the evolution of new species.

Francis Crick
Francis Crick
James Watson
James Watson

Crick and Watson

Francis Crick (1916-2004) and James Watson (born 1928) met at the Cavendish Laboratory of Cambridge University in 1951, where they became close friends as well as professional colleagues. Their work depended to a large extent on work done by others, notably Rosalind Franklin, Raymond Gosling and Maurice Wilkins. Of these, Franklin would have had most cause to be aggrieved at the lack of recognition given to her work, especially as it proved to be essential to the work of Crick and Watson.

The double helix

What Crick and Watson did was not to discover DNA as such – this was already well established – but to visualise how the molecule was constructed. They were able to build a model that demonstrated the molecule as a “double helix”, or a long ladder-like structure in which the rungs comprise pairs of four possible bases – guanine, adenine, cytosine and thymine.

The order in which the pairs of bases are arranged forms a chemical code that instructs the cell to make a particular amino acid. Because the basic units are so simple, and because every strand of DNA contains the code for the entire organism, the full DNA strand is immensely long. If fully unravelled, the DNA in each cell would extend to more than two metres. All the DNA in a human body would stretch to 200 billion kilometres!

The double helix provides the clue to how DNA works. The “ladder” is able to split apart so that portions of DNA can act as templates for the assembly of new DNA, or strands of RNA (ribonucleic acid) can act as messengers in the building of new proteins.

DNA and Evolution

Crick and Watson’s discovery paved the way for understanding how evolution works by providing the mechanism by which “errors” can be introduced into new generations of an organism. The splitting and re-assembly of DNA strands is not always perfect, which means that the chemical code can be distorted and new characteristics introduced that may or not be beneficial to the new individual. When beneficial changes happen, these are likely to be passed on to future generations, which will therefore differ in some respect from what went before. Given enough time, and enough such DNA errors, new species can evolve.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)