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Trends Biochem Sci. 2006 Jun;31(6):349-54. Epub 2006 May 5.

Historical article: DNA polymorphism and the early history of the double helix.

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  • 1Biological Structure and Function Section, Biomedical Sciences Division, Imperial College London, London SW7 2AZ, UK.


Early X-ray diffraction patterns from oriented fibres indicated that DNA must have a simple, repetitious structure and encouraged some researchers, who were already convinced that DNA was the genetic material, to undertake more detailed diffraction analyses and speculative modelling. The pioneering experimental work by Wilkins in the Wheatstone Laboratory at King's College London in the late 1940s first inspired, and then was overtaken by, the conjectural modelling of Watson and Crick in the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge. Why this was allowed to happen is still something of a puzzle. Here, I explore the puzzle and expose a peculiar flaw in the details of the original Watson-Crick model that was left for Wilkins to resolve.

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