Rosalind Franklin and DNA
By Anne Say re
Norton, J 9 75. $2.95
By Anita Davidson
In 1962 the Nobel Prize for Medicine
and Physiology was shared among
Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice
Wilkins in recognition of their work on
DNA. Rosalind Franklin, had she lived,
would surely have received a share of that
This claim was made by J.D. Bernal,
who headed the lab at Birkbeck College
where Franklin worked from 1953 until
her death in 1958.
Bernal was not alone in his opinion;
Aaron Klug and Andre Lwoff were
among the other respected scientists who
would attest to the importance of her
work. Yet, until very recently, her contributions were virtually unknown outside a
very small group of scientists. Linus Pauling in a paper published in Nature credited Maurice Wilkins with the B-Form
photographs of DNA that had, in fact,
been made by Franklin.
Anne Say re had known Rosalind
Franklin well, and was disheartened by
the lack of recognition accorded to the
memory of this very fine scientist. Nobel
prizes, however, are not awarded posthumously; and for Anne Sayre, at least, the
matter would have remained a private dis-
appoinment had it not been for James
Watson's publication in 1968 of The
Watson's book is subtitled "A personal
account" and relates the sequence of
events leading to his discovery of the
structure of DNA as remembered after
fifteen years. The almost total bypass of
Franklin's work in The Double Helix
lead Aaron Klug to publish an _exten-
sive article in Nature describing in some
detail her work on the DNA problem. He
called her contributions "crucial" and
pointed out that she discovered the
B-Form, recognized that two states of the
DNA molecule existed, and defined conditions for the transition. In addition,
"from early on she realized that any correct model must have the phosphate
groups on the outside of the molecule."
These were key points in the solution of
the DNA structure.
Thus, Watson's book inadvertently
brought about the public recognition
Rosalind Franklin's work had lacked, if
only in a small scientific circle. Ironically,
in the larger community of the general
public, The Double Helix did Rosalind
Franklin an even greater disservice than
neglect. Watson missed no opportunity in
his book to emphasize his position that
men who work with intelligent women
have reason to resent them. He used
"Rosy"-a vastly warped and fictionalized version of Rosalind Franklin-to
make this point.
Andre Lwoff in his review of The
Double Helix declared Watson's portrait
of Rosalind Franklin "cruel" and his remarks about her manner of dress and lack
of charm "quite unacceptable." For Anne
Sayre, Watson's book was an injustice to
the memory of a friend, and, added to
the injustice done to Franklin's work as a
scientist, it spurred her to the six-year research and study effort that went into her
knowledgeable and well-documented examination of Rosalind Franklin's career
and the DNA affair. Sayre points out that
her version is not necessarily the way
Rosalind Franklin herself would have told
it; rather it is Rosalind Franklin's story,
as told by a friend.
Sayre begins by describing Franklin's
background from a wealthy family with a
strong social conscience that prompted
most of its members to devote their lives
to volunteer social work. There was never
any doubt that Franklin would receive an
education commensurate with her abilities, but she came by her deep sense of
vocation without encouragement from
her family, for she did not have to earn a
living. That she always insisted on living
within her own earnings speaks for the
sincerity of her choice. Sayre follows
Franklin through her Cambridge years,
through her significant work as assistant
research officer of the British Coal Utilization Research Association (CURA),
and her four years in Paris as a.chercheur
in the Laboratoire Central des Services
Chimiques de I'Etat. In 1951 Rosalind
Franklin accepted Laboratory Director
Randall's offer of a Turner-Newall Research Fellowship at King's College with
the understanding that she would be put
in charge of building up an x-ray diffraction unit within the laboratory, which at
that time lacked one, and this she accomplished. Of the number of research projects going on to which the application of
x-ray diffraction methods was appropriate, the one devoted to the investigation
of DNA was the most important, and to
any imaginative scientist, the most provocative and fascinating.
In 1950 Erwin Chargaff, using methods of paper chromatography which
made possible very exact measurements
of the components of DNA, had demonstrated that the four bases present in
DNA—adenine, guanine, cytosine, and
thymine—were present in varying proportions according to the biological source
from which the DNA was taken, thus
provides essential information without
which the structure of DNA could not
have been determined at the time at
which it was.
Along with others from the Cavendish
Laboratory at Cambridge, James Watson
attended the colloquium at King's, but
insists in his book that he got nothing out
of Franklin's talk. He spent fifteen
months cultivating the friendship of Maurice Wilkins in order to milk information
about what "Rosy" was doing. Maurice
Wilkins did not know that Watson was
working on DNA-Watson kept that fact
well hidden-and therefore had no idea
that he was supplying invaluable information to his "friend."
It was not until Maurice Wilkins
showed Watson Franklin's x-ray picture
of the B-Form of DNA that Watson admits to grasping what Franklin had observed and presented at her colloquium.
About the photograph Watson writes
"mere inspection...gave several of the
vital helical parameters." (Unfathomably,
he continues to refer to Franklin as "anti-
Franklin was unaware that Watson had
seen her x-ray picture, and she was also
unaware that he had received a copy of a
report that she and her student, R. G.
Gosling, had written summarizing the results of their x-ray studies of calf thymus
DNA. Watson writes that he was elated
by the report because it assured him that
what he and Crick had in mind "was not
incompatible with the experimental
data." The "experimental data" was
Franklin's. As Sayre points out, on February 5, 1953, Watson and Crick had
nothing in mind which permitted them
a certain retelling of the circumstances in
his 1968 account. Watson attempted to
gain "underdog" sympathy from the
reader and at the same time to lift his
quest out of the personal and into the
larger national realm by incorporating
Linus Pauling as the California "giant" he
was racing to beat to the solution of the
DNA problem, even though Pauling was
unaware that a race was on.
The reader of The Double Helix is led
to believe that graciousness alone
prompted Watson to invite Franklin to
view his completed model (after publication of the first paper in Nature on April
25, 1953). We learn from Sayre that Watson needed Franklin's opinion and views
of his model before he could undertake
to write the second paper discussing the
real beauty of the structure, that it explained how the genetic code is carried.
James Watson and Francis Crick made
a brilliant solution to the problem of the
method of base-pairing in the DNA structure. Watson chose to present this theory
as if it had come off the top of his head
rather than acknowledge the base of information which he had obtained indirectly and in such a way that he preferred not to make it known at that time.
Watson and Crick deserve full credit for
perceiving the nature of the base pairing,
and this is a very high and unarguable
claim to glory. But as Andre Lwoff put it
in a conversation with Sayre, the evidence
for the rest of the structure lay in Franklin's data which they had received unconventionally, and surely they should either
have confined their paper to the scheme
of base pairing or offered her joint auth-
Had Rosalind Franklin lived, James Watson could not have written
The Double Helix, an account of the discovery of DNA which
completely undermines "Rosy's" (sic) vital contributions as a
clearing the way for the formulation of a
theory of how DNA can act as the carrier
of genetic information.
This was the general state of affairs
with regard to DNA when Franklin came
to King's College. The problem was irresistible and challenging. Previous attempts
to delineate the structure of the DNA
molecule through x-ray diffraction methods had not gotten very far beyond indicating that DNA was a poor subject for
x-ray photography, producing very little
diffraction data, very possibly too little
to allow any significant interpretation.
Franklin was drawn to the challenge.
By November, she had produced some
interesting experimental results and presented them at a colloquium given at
King's. The notes for her talk include
most of the material contained in her report to Randall which she wrote three
months later. Sayre points out that although Franklin's report does not, of
course, describe the structure of DNA, it
then to build a conclusive model of DNA,
but between February 6 and February
28, a successful model had become possible. Certainly the data received from
King's was not all that was required to
allow them to do this, but certainly it was
essential. Both Franklin's density data
which indicated the possibility of a two-
chain model, and the diffraction pattern
she had obtained in the B-Form photograph provided evidence of the diameter
of the helix; and Watson admits "Rosy
had hit it right in wanting the bases in the
center and the backbone (phosphates)
To have acknowledged the source of
such key information would have denied
Watson the aura of exclusivity. In order
to make exclusive claims, it was necessary
to gather information indirectly; and as
Watson frankly admits in 7776? Double
Helix, this is exactly what he did. However, the exclusive priority of discovery
which Watson claimed in 1953 demanded
orship for supplying the rest of the information.
Rosalind Franklin was not a meek
soul. Sayre assures us that if she had
known the extent of her contribution to
the Watson-Crick model, she would surely
have taken steps to set the record
straight. Had she lived, Watson could not
have written The Double Helix in its present form.
Anne Sayre delves deeply and examines thoroughly every aspect and detail of
the events and personalities of the DNA
affair. With clarity and fairness, Watson's
actions are viewed in the context of his
inherited values and attitudes; while he is
held accountable, he is not accused beyond his own personal responsibility.
As a consequence of Watson's deception, Rosalind Franklin's achievements
were made practically invisible to succeeding generations. Anne Sayre has
delivered from anonymity the contributions of an important scientist.
by Jean Kirkpatrick, PhD
183 pages. $6.95.
By Elnora Mendias
Women for Sobriety, Inc. (WFS) is
a loosely knit national organization of self-help groups for women alcoholics. Jean Kirkpatrick is a recovered
alcoholic who founded this organization
partly as a step in maintaining her own
Turnabout: Help for a New Life is
Kirkpatrick's own story of her alcoholic
years prior to founding WFS, as well as a
brief description of the organization itself
and its treatment program.
Kirkpatrick's story is vivid and compelling. A bright and talented woman, she
was an alcoholic from age 18, yet she managed to go on to graduate school and work
in responsible positions.
Alcohol disgusted her—and also fascinated and captured her. Her life alternated
between optimistic plans to stop drinking
and achieve great things and defiant drinking until she had sustained physical and
emotional damage. Alcohol alternately
built and diminished Kirkpatrick's self-
respect, filled her with both confident
elation and self-loathing, and enmeshed
her in a nightmare of nights, days and
events she couldn't remember or remembered only vaguely through a distorting
alcoholic fog. In despair, she tried several
times to take her own life.
Kirkpatrick's story is typical of the
cyclical denial and despair, defiant drinking and miserable self-loathing, faced by
the alcoholic. The story is tragic because
of the pain and self-destruction this talented individual brought upon herself. The
story is unusual because of the courage it
took to reveal it. Though it is estimated
that there are 5 million women alcoholics
in the United States (as many as there are
estimated male alcoholics), female alcoholism still carries a more severe social
stigma. It's considered "unlady-like"
Kirkpatrick contrasts the WFS program
of "13 Statements of Acceptance "with the
"12 Steps" of Alcoholics Anonymous
(AA). She contends that A A was designed
for men at a time when women alcoholics
were thought to be rare, and proposes that
many women cannot be helped by AA.
She contrasts the focii of AA and WFS;
WFS shifts from dependence on God for
help in overcoming alcoholism to the development of positive thinking and improved self-worth.
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol. . .that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than
ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our
lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to
another human being the exact nature of
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove
all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed
and became willing to make amends to them
9. Made direct amends to such people
wherever possible, except when to do so
would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory
and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11.Sought through prayer and meditation
to improve our conscious contact with God
as we understood Him, praying only for
knowledge of His will for us and the power
to carry them out.
12.Having had a spiritual awakening as the
result of these steps, we tried to carry this
message to alcoholics, and to practice these
principles in all our affairs.
1. I have a drinking problem that once had
2. Negative emotions destroy only myself.
3. Happiness is a habit I will develop.
4. Problems bother me only to the degree I
permit them to.
5. I am what I think.
6. Life can be ordinary or it can be great.
7. Love can change the course of my world.
8. The fundamental object of life is emotional and spiritual growth.
9. The past is gone forever.
10.All love given returns two-fold.
11 .Enthusiasm is my daily exercise.
12.1 am a competent woman and have much
to give others.
13.1am responsible for myself and my sisters.
Turnabout: Help for a
new life, pp. 161-162.
Page 12 HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH March 1978
March 1978 HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH Page 13