Scientists pull DNA pioneer Rosalind Franklin out of the role of victim

Scientists pull DNA pioneer Rosalind Franklin out of the role of victim

It is often emphasized how Franklin was denied credit for her contribution to the discovery of the structure of DNA. But researchers are now claiming, inadvertently, that this undermines it.

On April 25, 1953, pioneering scientists James Watson and Francis Crick published a groundbreaking article in the journal. nature. In their study, they described the hitherto mysterious structure of DNA, for which they later won the Nobel Prize. Now, exactly seventy years later, scholars are still debating the role of the famous scientist Rosalind Franklin. How much did she contribute to the solution – and did she rob scientific recognition of her work?

folk story
In May 1952, Franklin took the most famous “X-ray” of DNA ever: Image 51. This image would eventually reveal that DNA has the shape of a double helix. However, the popular story depicts Franklin as a brilliant scientist who was unable to decipher her own data. She would have looked at the picture for months, not realizing its meaning. Until Watson “illegally” obtained the photo (without her consent or knowledge) and understood at a glance what he was seeing.

Famous Photo 51. Photo: King’s College London Archives/Science Photo Library (via Nature)

However, the researchers came to the conclusion after visiting the Franklin Archives Churchill College Cambridge’s conclusion is different. In the archives, they find an unpublished news article written by journalist Joanne Bruce. The story appears to have been written in consultation with Franklin and appeared in the prestigious magazine time must be published. Investigators also found an overlooked letter from one of Franklin’s colleagues that was addressed to Francis Crick.

equivalent member
These documents show that Franklin certainly did not fail to understand the structure of DNA. Indeed, “she was an equal member of the quartet that revealed the structure of DNA,” write the researchers. “Together with Maurice Wilkins (who worked in the same lab as Franklin, ed.) she was part of the team that solved this scientific problem. She took important steps towards the solution, provided important data and verified the result.”

Not a victim
This means that we may need to revise our viewpoint somewhat. For example, not only did Franklin already understand her image, but she also knew that others could access her data. It seems that the four scientists worked together. So the discovery of the structure of DNA should not be seen as a race won by Watson and Crick, but as the result of a joint effort. Rosalind Franklin was an equal contributor to the discovery of the structure of DNA, not a victim.

to get to know
However, this does not change the fact that Franklin has received little recognition for her work. Watson and Crick get all the credit. In 1953 the gentlemen published their discovery in the journal nature. Franklin’s contribution was somewhat obscure and the credits went to the men. Franklin didn’t win a Nobel Prize either; She died shortly before at the age of 37 and the prize was not awarded posthumously. Watson then misrepresents the fact that Franklin contributed to his famous book, double helix. This is often quoted to emphasize how dishonorable Franklin was. But researchers say this unintentionally undermines it.

An important contribution
According to them, it is therefore important that Franklin’s story be well told. Franklin contributed many important ideas to the discovery of the double helix. However, what was conceded is indisputable. In addition, it is excluded from the world of casual exchanges in which Watson and Crick find themselves. “She was dealing not only with routine sexism at the time, but also with more subtle forms embedded in science — some of which still exist,” the researchers wrote.

Overall, the researchers show that Franklin’s contribution may have been grossly underestimated. The use of Franklin’s data in the full description of the structure of DNA was also recognized by Watson and Crick in a report published later in 1954. This reinforces the idea that Franklin was an equal member of a group of four scientists working on the structure of DNA. So, while she was acknowledged as such by her peers, this recognition came late and in the dark.

Through the study, researchers have now put Rosalind Franklin in an entirely different light. So we must look at it differently from now on, they assert. She deserves to be remembered not as a victim of the double helix, but as an equal contributor to the unraveling of the structure.

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