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American molecular biologist, geneticist and zoologist, best known as one of the co-discoverers of the structure of DNA in 1953 with Francis Crick. From 1956 to 1976, Watson was on the faculty of the Harvard University Biology Department, promoting research in molecular biology. Watson, a businessman descended mostly from colonial English immigrants to America. Watson grew up on the south side of Chicago and attended public schools, including Horace Mann Grammar School and South Shore High School. After reading Erwin Schrödinger’s book What Is Life?
1946, Watson changed his professional ambitions from the study of ornithology to genetics. Originally, Watson was drawn into molecular biology by the work of Salvador Luria. Delbrück experiment, which concerned the nature of genetic mutations. The Phage Group was the intellectual medium where Watson became a working scientist. Importantly, the members of the Phage Group sensed that they were on the path to discovering the physical nature of the gene. Watson then went to Copenhagen University in September 1950 for a year of postdoctoral research, first heading to the laboratory of biochemist Herman Kalckar.
The experiments, which Watson had learned of during the previous summer’s Cold Spring Harbor phage conference, included the use of radioactive phosphate as a tracer to determine which molecular components of phage particles actually infect the target bacteria during viral infection. In 1951, the chemist Linus Pauling in California published his model of the amino acid alpha helix, a result that grew out of Pauling’s efforts in X-ray crystallography and molecular model building. DNA model built by Crick and Watson in 1953, on display in the Science Museum, London. In mid-March 1953, Watson and Crick deduced the double helix structure of DNA. Sydney Brenner, Jack Dunitz, Dorothy Hodgkin, Leslie Orgel, and Beryl M. The Cambridge University student newspaper Varsity also ran its own short article on the discovery on Saturday, May 30, 1953.
Watson subsequently presented a paper on the double-helical structure of DNA at the 18th Cold Spring Harbor Symposium on Viruses in early June 1953, six weeks after the publication of the Watson and Crick paper in Nature. Many at the meeting had not yet heard of the discovery. Watson’s accomplishment is displayed on the monument at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Watson, Crick, and Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962 for their research on the structure of nucleic acids.
The publication of the double helix structure of DNA can be regarded as a turning point in science: human understanding of life was fundamentally changed and the modern era of biology began. In 1956, Watson accepted a position in the Biology department at Harvard University. His work at Harvard focused on RNA and its role in the transfer of genetic information. At Harvard University, Watson achieved a series of academic promotions from assistant professor to associate professor to full professor of biology.
Watson continued to be a member of the Harvard faculty until 1976, even though he took over the directorship of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 1968. Views on Watson’s scientific contributions while at Harvard are somewhat mixed. His most notable achievements in his two decades at Harvard may be what he wrote about science, rather than anything he discovered during that time. In 1968, Watson wrote The Double Helix, listed by the Board of the Modern Library as number seven in their list of 100 Best Nonfiction books.
Between 1970 and 1972, the Watsons‘ two sons were born, and by 1974, the young family made Cold Spring Harbor their permanent residence. Watson served as the laboratory’s director and president for about 35 years, and later he assumed the role of chancellor and then Chancellor Emeritus. In his roles as director, president, and chancellor, Watson led CSHL to articulate its present-day mission, „dedication to exploring molecular biology and genetics in order to advance the understanding and ability to diagnose and treat cancers, neurological diseases, and other causes of human suffering. In October 2007, Watson was suspended following criticism of his views on genetic factors relating to intelligence, and a week later, on the 25th, he retired at the age of 79 from CSHL from what the lab called „nearly 40 years of distinguished service“. In 1990, Watson was appointed as the Head of the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health, a position he held until April 10, 1992. In 1994, Watson became President of CSHL. Francis Collins took over the role as Director of the Human Genome Project.
In 2014 Watson published a paper in The Lancet suggesting that biological oxidants may have a different role than is thought in diseases including diabetes, dementia, heart disease and cancer. Several of Watson’s former doctoral students subsequently became notable in their own right including, Mario Capecchi, Bob Horvitz, Peter B. The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA. Genes, Girls, and Gamow: After the Double Helix.