In case you missed why I’m creating a book club, check out my previous post.
The first book in the book club is The Double Helix written by the Nobel Prize winner James Watson. He won the Nobel Prize along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins in 1962 by discovering the structure of DNA (learn more about DNA in my earlier post What is DNA?). This is a provocative book written by a provocative scientist about how he came to discover this structure (a great review of the book can be found here). Much of it deals with the relationship with Rosalind Franklin, the scientist who created the images that provided Watson with the information that allowed him to determine the structure, and his other colleagues. This book also gives you insight into the mind of a scientist (though please don’t use this book to judge all scientists because his personality really is a unique one). If you’re interested in the original scientific publication, you can find it here – it’s incredibly short, considering its significance.
After my mom read this book, she put it down and asked me “I understand that they solved the structure and all, but why was it so important?” This was so important because this structure indicated that the bases (described here) paired together: A with T and G with C. This meant that the sequence of either strand could be used as templates to copy the DNA. Copying DNA needs to be done every time a cell divides – and considering that humans (who have 37 trillion cells) come from one original cell (the fertilized egg), that’s a LOT of dividing that needs to be done.
An interesting aside – I’ve met and talking with Jim Watson many times since he was the Chancellor at the graduate school I attended. He was an interesting character. His legacy is very much defined by this discovery, but also of his vision for the laboratory that he ran on Long Island, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. My Mom has met him several times as well, and I suppose both of us can legitimately say that we have learned a few things from a Noble Prize winner.
For more Book Club books, click here.