JD Watson Essay

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James Dewey Watson

The Discovery of DNA was one of the most important discoveries in the history of Humanity, and it was accomplished by James Watson and Francis Crick. Their discovery of the structure of DNA allowed scientists to begin to understand the mechanism behind inheritance. While many scientists over the years had studied heredity, beginning with Gregor Mendel, no one had been able to discover the exact mechanism for how heredity actually works. It was not until the technology of the time advance to a point where scientists could determine the structure of molecules that the discovery of the structure of genetic material could be determined. After much research, and some failures, two scientists, working together, finally determined the molecular structure of the genetic molecule, allowing for the study of the exact mechanism to begin. James Watson was one of the scientists responsible for the discovery of the DNA molecule, and since that time has become one of the greatest scientists in American history. However, James Watson was also a human being and capable of human error, which at the end of his long and illustrious career, all but ruined him.

James Dewey Watson was born in Chicago Ill, on April 6th 1928, the only son of James and Jean Watson. His father was a businessman while his mother worked for the University of Chicago. His entire early life was spent in Chicago where he attended Horace Mann Grammar School and South Shore High School. ("Biography James Watson") After just two years in high school, in 1943, James was allowed to enter an experimental program which allowed for gifted High School students to entire the University of Chicago early. Through this program, Watson graduated college in just three years with a B.S. degree in Zoology. An avid birdwatcher since a boy, Watson then enter Indian University and received a Doctorate in Zoology in 1950. However, it was at Indiana University that Watson became interested in genetics and after graduating, he took a position at the Merck National Research Council in Copenhagen. During this time Watson attended a symposium where he was introduced to the new X-Ray diffraction technology which could be used to discover the structures of molecules. This exposure to new technology influenced him greatly and he change the focus of his research toward the discovery of the structure of the genetic molecule through the use of this new technology. (Wright 1999)

Watson then went to work for the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University in England and teamed up with another young scientist named Francis Crick. It was during his time partnered with Crick that the two engaged in one of the greatest scientific discoveries known to the world. The two went to work using the newest in X-Ray diffraction technology in order to discover the molecular structure of the genetic molecule. After two years of research, on February, 28th 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick made the discovery that the structure of the genetic molecule, called Deoxyribonucleic Acid, was actually a double helix. ("James D. Watson, Ph.D.") In other words, it was like a ladder twisting around a cylinder. And as he later stated "These pairs of bases could thus serve as the rungs on the twisting ladder of DNA. (Wright 1999)

Watson and Crick's discovery was the culmination of decades of research into the mechanism behind inheritance. It was a monk named Gregor Mendel who first began to scientifically study the phenomenon of inheritance. By studying successive generations of plants, Mendel was able to work out the basic mathematical formula of inheritance. While Mendel's research determined that there was a mathematical basis for inheritance, the mechanism was still undetermined. It was a scientist named Walter Sutton, who in the 1870's worked out that the mechanism of inheritance was connected to the discovery of chromosomes in the nucleus of the cell. At about the same time another scientist, named Johann Miescher was also researching the basic structure of chromosomes and determined that chromosomes were made up of acids, and by 1900 had worked out a simple basic structure for the genetic molecule. Miescher surmised that the genetic molecule must be made up of three parts: a phosphate, a sugar, and a base. He also determined that there were four bases which could be used. (Wolf 2003) But it was a different scientist, Edwin Chargaff, who later discovered that the four basis, adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine were divided into two groups, A-T, and G-C, which were found in the same amounts. In other words, there was the same amount of adenine and thymine found in the samples, as well as the same amount of cytosine and guanine. ("James Watson, et al.") Chargaff had discovered that the molecule must be made up of four bases, and each individual base was paired to another.

The real advancement came when technology allowed for human to actually see the structures of molecules through the process of X-Ray diffraction. It was Watson's introduction to this technology which caused his shift away from studying birds to studying the structure of the genetic molecule. He met Francis Crick at Cambridge University and the two spent the next two years postulating and experimenting until, on February 28th 1953, James Watson put it all together and came up with the structure of DNA. Watson and Crick's paper on the subject was published the following April in the journal Nature. Both men became instant celebrities and went on to hold prestigious positions in academia. After a short time spent in California, in 1956 Watson joined the faculty of Harvard University where he remained as a professor until 1976. During his time at Harvard, Watson, in 1968, also became the director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, ("James D. Watson, Chancellor Emeritus") where he remained until the end of his career.

James Watson and Francis Crick, along with Maurice Wilkins, another scientist who aided their research, won the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1962. ("Watson and Crick describe structure of DNA") This was the beginning of his career as one of the most famous scientists in history, and he was only 30 years old. Throughout his long and distinguished career, Watson continued to research. In 1988, Watson became the Director of the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health, a project designed to decipher the genetic code of the entire human species. ("James D. Watson, Ph.D.") However, after just four years he stepped down from that position due to problems with the other staff on the project.

Watson had always been a difficult person to get along with. Early in his career he would sometimes inadvertently insult people through behavior he did not realize was insulting. Growing up as a gifted child, he was often allowed to behave in unconventional ways, as this was how he "worked." But while his parents were always willing to overlook his eccentricities, those in the regular world were not. His lack of manners hounded him throughout his life, and he wrote a book, entitled "Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science" described the lessons in manners he was forced to learn throughout his academic career. However, with chapter titles like "Manners Demanded By Academic Ineptitude," it would seem that his lessons in manners never quite took hold. (Watson 2007)

Watson's inability to maintain proper social conduct finally reached a peak in October of 2007, when the famed scientist made comments which many took as offensive. Watson, speaking in a newspaper interview stated that he was pessimistic about the future of Africa because, "all our policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours- whereas all the testing says not really." And that human beings have a natural desire that all should be equal but "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true" (Milmo 2007) As expected, the public's reaction to these comments were a mix of outrage and fury. Watson was forced to resign as the Director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and enter retirement, where he remains to this day.

James Watson was a socially inept nerd. He was a stereotypical scientist, focused entirely on his work without regard for the comings and goings of anything else. He never truly learned how to interact with his fellow human beings in a social way, science was everything to him. It was the topic of conversation over coffee, or lunch, it was what he talked about at home, it really was everything to him. When he made comments in public, he never really was able to realize how his statements would be received because he had no understanding of the regular person. He understood science, he spent his life working in the lab, and when the time came to make a statement, any statement, he approached it in a rational, intellectual way without regard for other people's feelings. This is how scientists communicate with each other, and…[continue]

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