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The structure of DNA: How Dr Rosalind Franklin contributed to the story of life

The discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953 was made possible by Dr Rosalind Franklin’s X-ray diffraction work at King’s. Her creation of the famous Photo 51 demonstrated the double-helix structure of deoxyribonucleic acid: the molecule containing the genetic instructions for the development of all living organisms.

Dr Franklin joined the laboratory of John Randall at King’s in 1950 with a PhD from Cambridge and X-ray diffraction experience in Paris. At King’s, by controlling the water content of the DNA specimens, she showed that the molecule could exist in two forms (A and B). In May 1952 she and PhD student Ray Gosling captured the image of the B form that Jim Watson of Cambridge saw early in 1953, giving him and Francis Crick vital information for the building of their DNA model in March.

A paper by Franklin and Gosling, together with one by Dr Maurice Wilkins and colleagues from King’s, accompanied the announcement of Watson and Crick’s momentous discovery in Nature in May 1953. Franklin moved to Birkbeck College, London, and she died of cancer in 1958. She had helped to discover the story of life, and to lay the foundations of structural molecular biology.

Photographs courtesy of King’s College London Archives.

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Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin


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