Rivalry Among DNA Sleuths Comes Alive in Letters

Nicholas Wade in The New York Times:

Crick-popup A long-lost trove of letters written by and to Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, has resurfaced, highlighting the tensions between the members of two English laboratories as they vied with each other and in alliance against a formidable American rival, the great chemist Linus Pauling. The letters were written during a 26-year period when Crick informally guided the progress of molecular biologists around the world in establishing how DNA operates in living cells. An article on the letters was published Wednesday in the journal Nature, focusing on those related to the discovery of DNA’s double helix structure in 1953.

“We are really between forces that may grind all of us to pieces,” the physicist Maurice Wilkins wrote after a disastrous attempt by Crick and his colleague James D. Watson to build a model of DNA based in part on data gathered by Rosalind Franklin. Ignoring the intimations of doom, Crick responded to Dr. Wilkins in flippant style, referring to his poaching another lab’s problem and to his friend’s inability to get along with his colleague Dr. Franklin. “So cheer up and take it from us that even if we kicked you in the pants it was between friends,” Crick wrote in December 1951. “We hope our burglary will at least produce a united front in your group!”

More here.