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How to Live with a Golden Helix

New York Academy of Sciences
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  • Dna
  • Biology
  • Literature


How to Live with a A DNA pioneer takes another look at his seminal discovery The discovery of the structure of DNA has been de- scribed in print several times already, not only by Jim Watson in that rather breathless fragment of his autobiography he called The Double Helix (perhaps Lucky fim would have been a better title), but also, in a more sober, detailed and scholarly way, by Bob Olby (The Path to the Double Helix). At least one TV documentary has been made about it. Leaving more ephemeral effusions, whether girlish or soured, on one side, we have an excellent account by Horace Judson. His book, The Eighth Day of Creation (Simon and Schuster, 1979), covers not only the discovery of the double helix, but also the search for the genetic code and the three-dimensional structure of pro- teins. Very well researched, scientifically accurate and written in a lively and readable style, it reveals more about the way molecular biology was done and about the people who did it than any other account I know. What more can I add? Before the whole thing gets out of hand and becomes an academic cottage industry, I think a dose of cold water could do no harm. No doubt it is fascinating to read just how a scientific discovery is made; the misleading experi- mental data, the false starts, the long hours spent chewing the cud, the darkest hour before the dawn, and then the moment of illumination, followed by the final run down the home straight to the winning post. And what a cast of characters! The Brash Young Man from the Middle West, the Englishman who talks too much (and therefore must be a genius since geniuses either talk all the time or say nothing at all), the older generation, replete with Nobel Prizes, and best of all, a Liberated Woman who ap- pears to be unfairly treated. And in addition, what bliss, some of the characters actually quarrel, in fact almost come to blows. The reader is delighted to learn that after all, in spite of science bein

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