Crick, Francis Harry Compton (1916–2004)

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Date: 2007
Encyclopedia of World Scientists, Rev. ed.
Publisher: Facts On File
Series: Facts on File Science Library
Document Type: Biography
Pages: 2
Content Level: (Level 5)

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About this Person
Born: June 08, 1916 in Northampton, United Kingdom
Died: July 28, 2004 in San Diego, California, United States
Nationality: American
Occupation: Molecular biologist
Other Names: Crick, Francis Harry Compton
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Crick, Francis Harry Compton (1916–2004)


Molecular Biologist

Francis Crick, in conjunction with the American zoologist JAMES DEWEY WATSON, created a model that explained the structure and suggested the replication process of deoxyribonucleic Page 161  |  Top of Articleacid, or DNA, the building block of life. Watson and Crick built upon the existing knowledge about DNA, c MAURICE HUGH FREDERICK WILKINS and ROSALIND ELSIE FRANKLIN. Once Watson and Crick had established the model, a flurry of activity in the new field of molecular biology ensued, seeking to ascertain the complete makeup and the replication procedure for DNA. In 1962 Crick shared the Nobel Prize in medicine with Watson and Wilkins.

Crick was born on June 8, 1916, in Northampton, England, to Anne Elizabeth Wilkins and Harry Crick, who ran a shoe and boot factory with his brother. Crick married Ruth Doreen Dodd in early 1940, and the birth of their son, Michael, occurred during an air raid on November 25, 1940. Crick and Dodd divorced in 1947, and Crick married Odile Speed in 1949.

Crick entered University College in London in 1934, and he graduated early, in 1937, with a second-class-honors degree in physics, accompanied by work in mathematics. World War II interrupted his academic progress, but in 1947 he commenced his graduate work, funded by the Medical Research Council at Strange ways Research Laboratory of Cambridge University. In 1949 he transferred to the new Medical Research Council Unit at Cavendish Laboratory of Cambridge University. In 1951 the 23-year-old Watson arrived at the Cavendish as a member of the visiting Phage Group, which was studying bacterial viruses. Watson and Crick clicked immediately and set about finding the foundation of genes.

Whereas Wilkins and Franklin approached the problem of discovering DNA's structure experimentally, Watson and Crick preferred a more theoretical method of model building, based on LINUS CARL PAULING's solution to the structure of the alpha helix in protein. In 1953 they came up with a model of protein strands that intertwined in a spiral, connected by bases of paired nucleotides. Watson and Crick reported their findings and hypotheses in four papers, the first of which was published on April 25, 1953, in the journal Nature. Remarkably, Watson and Crick did not brag about the implications of their findings but simply suggested the possibility of genetic replication based on DNA.

Crick could not follow up on this discovery immediately, as he had to finish his doctoral dissertation, which he completed in late 1953. He spent much of the rest of his career tracing the chemical makeup of DNA and deciphering gene replication. In 1957 he announced his “Central Dogma” in the paper “On Protein Synthesis,” which stated that genetic transcription occurs from DNA to ribonucleic acid (RNA) to protein. Once a genetic transfer takes place, it cannot be reversed. Crick also suggested that bases group themselves in triplets, known as codons. Crick thus mapped the genetic code whereby life passes unto life.

In 1977 the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California, made Crick a distinguished professor. Crick recorded his impressions of his ground-breaking research in the 1966 book Of Molecules and Men, and in 1988 he published an autobiography, What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery. Crick's greatest scientific gift was his ability to pierce through irrelevant information straight to the heart of a matter, and to convey this understanding in a clear and uncluttered way. Frances Crick died on July 28, 2004, from colon cancer.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|CX4065100204