25 April is DNA Day in the UK and around the world. Unless you were looking out for it though, you probably missed it. I’ve seen move coverage of World Penguin Day, today (26 April), and it’s only 10am.
If you think of DNA discovery, two names probably spring to mind – Watson and Crick. James D Watson and Francis Crick’s names were attributed to the published paper in Nature, dated 25 April 1953, however it wasn’t their research alone that led to the discovery. It was a whole crowd of people who were behind the theory and subsequent discovery. The one who we can consider to be most ‘left out’ is Rosalind Franklin, for without her foresight and skill, the male duo would not have been able to create their model.
One of the key team members, and in fact the only female on the team, was Rosalind Franklin – the “Dark Lady of DNA”. A chemist and radiologist by training, it was her x-ray diffraction images of DNA which led to its discovery as a double helix and the famous model made by Watson and Crick.
In what could be considered a scientific-soap-opera-saga, the x-ray diffraction image ‘photo 51’ was shown to Watson without Franklin’s knowledge or consent by Maurice Wilkins, a colleague Franklin had clashed with while working at King’s College.
General knowledge of Franklin and her contribution to the discovery of DNA remains poor, in spite of attempts from modern day scientists and doctors to raise her profile. She continues to be one of the unsung heroes of modern day medicine. I wonder who else is languishing without honour for their achievements?
Next 25th April, we should make an effort to celebrate the unsung heroes.