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James Watson

James WatsonAKA James Dewey Watson

Born: 6-Apr-1928
Birthplace: Chicago, IL

Gender: Male
Religion: Atheist
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Scientist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Co-Discoverer of DNA

James Watson was a bright young American who entered the University of Chicago at the age of 15. He was particularly interested in birds, and quickly earned a BS and Ph.D. in zoology, then went to Europe to study genetics.

At Cambridge, he met a Brit named Francis Crick, and together with their colleague Maurice Wilkins, they tried to elucidate the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). They felt Linus Pauling, then the world's most famous chemist, was breathing down their necks, and they desperately wanted to solve the DNA riddle before he did. Pauling had already come close, but it was Crick, Watson, and Wilkins who first showed that the collected clues only made sense if DNA were structured like two twisting, spiral ladders -- the double helix.

Some have suggested that Rosalind Franklin, who worked with Crick, Watson, and Wilkins, may deserve much more credit than she's been given. The evidence clearly shows she was intimately involved in the research of DNA's structure; that she pointed out the flaws in an early Crick-Watson theory that suggested three, not two, DNA chains; and that Crick and Watson used Franklin's x-ray DNA photographs before obtaining her permission. Franklin, however, died in 1958, four years before Crick, Watson, and Wilkins got their Nobel Prizes.

Crick and Watson also theorized on the structure of viruses. Without Crick, Watson studied x-ray diffraction in ribonucleic acid (RNA), and the role of RNA in protein synthesis. He's taught at CalTech and Harvard, and served as director and president of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, studying tumor virology, the molecular basis of cancer, and oncogenes (cancer genes).

In October 2007, Watson sparked controversy when he said in an interview that he was "inherently gloomy" about Africa's future because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours, whereas all the testing says not really". He later apologized "unreservedly" and said there is "no scientific basis for such a belief."

Father: James Dewey Watson (businessman)
Mother: Jean Mitchell (d. 1957)
Wife: Elizabeth Lewis (m. 25-Mar-1968, two sons)
Son: Rufus Robert (b. 1970)
Son: Duncan James (b. 1972)

    High School: University of Chicago High School, Chicago, IL
    University: BSc Zoology, University of Chicago (1947)
    University: PhD Zoology, Indiana University Bloomington (1950)
    Scholar: University of Copenhagen (1950-51)
    Scholar: Cambridge University (1951-54)
    Teacher: California Institute of Technology (1954-56)
    Professor: Biology, Harvard University (1956-68)
    Administrator: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (1968-2007)

    National Institutes of Health Director, Human Genome Project (1990-92)
    Nobel Prize for Medicine 1962 (with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins)
    Lasker Award Basic Medical Research Award (1960)
    Copley Medal 1993
    Academy of Achievement 1986
    Friends of Hillary
    Hillary Clinton for President
    International Academy of Humanism Laureate
    Science Debate 2008
    Draft Deferment: World War II

Author of books:
The Double Helix (1968, nonfiction)
Genes, Girls, and Gamow: After the Double Helix (2002, nonfiction)
DNA: The Secret of Life (2003, nonfiction, with Andrew Berry)
Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science (2007, memoir)


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