The Double Helix Book Summary, by James D. Watson

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1-Page Summary of The Double Helix

Overview

Charles Darwin noticed that species are related and different traits are passed on within a species. However, he did not explain how this happens.

Up until the discovery of DNA, most people believed that all living things on Earth were different species. Then we learned about how they’re related to each other and to us.

James Watson tells the story of how he and other scientists came to discover DNA. Despite academic rivalries, petty politics, and a general lack of interest in genes, they persevered until they were able to prove that life is related and how it came to be. In these key points you’ll learn why a general lack of interest in genes opened new doors for Watson; how meeting Francis Crick changed his future; and why academic conventions almost clocked the discovery of DNA.

Big Idea #1: The double helix is one of history’s greatest scientific discoveries because it explains the true nature of DNA.

To understand the significance of James Watson’s story, it is important to first understand what DNA is. Deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, is a molecule that contains our genetic information and includes two twisted strands made up of sugar-phosphate. These strands are like railings on a spiral staircase called a double helix. A single strand would resemble a coiled spring; therefore, a double helix resembles two springs curling in synchronicity with one another. The base of each strand is made up of four building blocks: adenine (A), cytosine (C), thymine (T) and guanine (G).

DNA is the blueprint of life and it’s copied every time a cell divides. But how can this happen so many times without errors?

The answer to the question of how DNA replicates itself was answered when scientists discovered the double helix. The two strands in a DNA molecule can only bind with other specific bases, so when they split down the middle, each strand becomes an inverted copy of the other. Once separated, both act as templates for making new double helices.

DNA is a great example of the scientific method. It’s simple, and it helps us understand how life works. This was proven in 1961 when Francis Crick conducted an experiment that showed DNA has a genetic code. The experiment also proved that three bases can be linked to form the code for one amino acid, which can then be used to create proteins and other compounds within our bodies.

The double helix structure of DNA was discovered by Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins. They were the ones who saw that all organisms, including humans, share some common genetic code. We’ll go back in time to see how they made this discovery.

Big Idea #2: Since DNA wasn’t connected to genetics in the 1950s, it took chemists to start unlocking the secrets.

The study of DNA is a central field in biology. But back in the 1950s, biologists didn’t seem too interested in studying it. As James Watson saw it, they were wasting their time speculating about such things as the origin of life instead of focusing on what was important.

Even though genetics was discovered a long time ago, many people didn’t ask the important questions about it. They were asking about what properties are inherited and not how that information is stored or passed on.

Scientists had trouble believing that DNA could be the carrier of genetic information. After all, it only has four subunits; how can it contain such complex information? Some scientists even called DNA the “stupid molecule,” because of its lack of complexity.

At the time, only physicists and chemists were interested in DNA. However, even they didn’t know how to use it for genetics. The best method at that time was X-ray crystallography, which uses beams of X-rays to get a 3D picture of electron density (the arrangement of electrons). This technique can help scientists determine what elements are present in molecules and how those molecules are held together.

The Double Helix Book Summary, by James D. Watson

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