After working at the University of Copenhagen, where he first determined to investigate DNA, he did research at the Cavendish Laboratories (1951-53). There Watson learned X-ray diffraction techniques and worked with Crick on the problem of DNA structure. In 1952 he determined the structure of the protein coat surrounding the tobacco mosaic virus but made no dramatic progress with DNA. Suddenly, in the spring of 1953, Watson saw that the essential DNA components--four organic bases--must be linked in definite pairs. This discovery was the key factor that enabled Watson and Crick to formulate a molecular model for DNA--a double helix, which can be likened to a double staircase of intertwined spirals. The DNA double helix consists of two intertwined sugar-phosphate chains, with the flat base pairs forming the steps between them. Watson and Crick's model also showed how the DNA molecule could duplicate itself. Thus it became known how genes, and eventually chromosomes, duplicate themselves. Watson and Crick published their epochal discovery in two papers in the British journal Nature in April-May 1953. Their research answered one of the fundamental questions in genetics.
Watson subsequently taught at Harvard University (1955-76), where he
served as professor of biology (1961-76). He conducted research on nucleic
acids' role in the synthesis of proteins. In 1965 he published Molecular
Biology of the Gene, one of the most extensively used modern biology
texts. He later wrote The Double Helix (1968), an informal and personal
account of the DNA discovery and the roles of the people involved in
it, which aroused some controversy. In 1968 Watson assumed the leadership
of the Laboratory of Quantitative Biology at Cold Spring Harbor, Long
Island, N.Y., and made it a world centre for research in molecular biology.
He concentrated its efforts on cancer research. In 1981 his The DNA
Story (written with John Tooze) was published. From 1988 to 1992 at
the National Institutes of Health, Watson helped direct the Human Genome
Project, a project to map and decipher all the genes in the human chromosomes,
but he eventually resigned because of alleged conflicts of interests
involving his investments in private biotechnology companies.
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