JAMES WATSON Biography - Famous Scientists


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James Dewey Watson was born (April 6, 1928) and raised in Chicago, Illinois. He was a precocious   
student, and entered the University of Chicago when he was only 15. He received                   
his Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology four years later, and went on to earn                   
a Ph.D. in the same subject at Indiana University. He was engaged in research at                   
the University of Copenhagen in Denmark when he first learned of the                               
biomolecular research underway at the Cavendish Laboratory of Cambridge                           
University in England. Watson joined Francis Crick in this work at Cambridge in                   
Together, Watson and Crick attempted to determine the chemical structure of                       
living matter. When their initial research failed to produce results, the                         
directors of the laboratory ordered them to end their investigation, but they                     
continued their work in secret and, on February 28, 1953, they made a momentous                   
The two scientists had determined the structure of the molecule deoxyribonucleic                   
acid (DNA), of which all living matter is made. In June they published their                       
findings in the British science journal Nature. The article created a sensation.                   
The DNA molecule, Watson and Crick had found, is shaped like a double helix, or                   
"gently twisted ladder." The two chains of the helix unlink "like a zipper," and                   
reproduce their missing halves. In this way, each molecule of DNA is able to                       
create two identical copies of itself.                                                             
The initials DNA and the elegant model of the double helix, became known around                   
the world. So did Watson and Crick. Their discovery revolutionized the study of                   
biology and genetics, making possible the recombinant DNA techniques used by                       
today's biotechnology industry.                                                                   
James Watson became a Senior Research Fellow in Biology at the California                         
Institute of Technology, before returning to Cambridge in 1955. The following                     
year he moved to Harvard University, where he became Professor of Biology, a                       
post he held until 1976.                                                                           
In recognition of their discovery, Francis Crick and James Watson shared the                       
1962 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine with Maurice Wilkins. In 1968                         
Watson published his account of the DNA discovery, The Double Helix. The book                     
became an international best-seller, but some in the scientific community were                     
scandalized by Watson's less-than-flattering portrayal of his own colleagues.                     
Throughout the ensuing controversy, Watson insisted that devotion to the truth                     
was as essential in writing for the general public as it is in scientific                         
In the same year, James Watson married the former Elizabeth Lewis. They have two                   
sons: Rufus and Duncan.                                                                           
While continuing his duties at Harvard, James Watson became Director of the Cold                   
Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island. At the time, this institution was in                     
serious financial difficulty but, under Watson's vigorous leadership, it became                   
financially sound and is now an international leader in genetic research.                         
Scientists working under Watson at Cold Spring Harbor uncovered the molecular                     
nature of cancer and identified cancer genes for the first time. Every year over                   
4,000 scientists from around the world come to Cold Spring Harbor to study; the                   
Institute's influence over international genetic research is profound.                             
In 1988, Watson accepted an invitation from the National Institute of Health to                   
become Associate Director of the Human Genome Project. The following year,                         
Watson became Director of the project and guided it skillfully through the storm                   
of controversy surrounding genetic research. This undertaking has applied the                     
kind of resources usually associated with military and aerospace research to                       
creating a complete directory of the genetic code of the human species. To do                     
this, researchers must determine the location, chemical composition and function                   
of 50,000 to 100,000 separate genes. This will permit the development of tests,                   
and possibly cures, for thousands of hereditary disorders or diseases which have                   
some genetic component.                                                                           
Watson left the Genome project in 1992, having seen it off to a successful start.                 
He continued his work at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory throughout this period,                     
and in 1994 became President of that institution, and later served as its                         
Universities and governments around the world have honored James Watson with                       
honorary degrees and decorations, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.                     
Apart from his many scientific papers and the best-selling Double Helix, Watson's                 
writings include:The DNA Story, Molecular Biology of the Gene, Molecular Biology                   
of the Cell Recombinant DNA: A Short Course, and his 2003 memoir, Genes, Girls                     
and Gamow.                                                                                         
Over the years, James Watson occasionally attracted controversy with his                           
uninhibited remarks on a variety of topics. In 2007, he apologized publicly                       
after an interview in which he speculated that Africa's progress might be                         
hindered by genetic inheritance. He retracted the statement and regretted any                     
offense caused by his remarks. Shortly thereafter, he retired as Chancellor of                     
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and resigned from the Laboratory's Board of                         
Directors, after 43 years of service. In his resignation statement, he offered                     
the hope that genetic science would soon conquer cancer and mental illness. "Final                 
victory is within our grasp," he said. "I wish to be among those at the victory