Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins CBE: 15 December 1916 - 5 October 2004
Arnott S, Kibble TW, Shallice T.
Sir Alexander Fleming Building, Imperial College, London.
Biogr Mem Fellows R Soc. 2006;52:455-78.
ABSTRACTMaurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins was the 'Third man of the double helix; according to the publishers who were allowed to foist this title on his late-written autobiography. Certainly it is for his role in the discover of the duplex secondary structure of DNA that he will be remembered. It might be argued that he was the first man, rather than the third, for it was his successful revival of X-ray diffraction studies of DNA and his earliest result in 1950, a pattern of a well-oriented and polycrystalline DNA of unprecedented quality, that allowed him to conclude almost immediately that the basic framework of the genetical material was simple and symmetrical, and that the symmetrical structure took the form of a helix. This same pattern, displayed at a conference in Naples six months later, was the major inspiration for the involvement of J. D. Watson (ForMemRS 1981) in modelling DNA structure in collaboration with F. H. C. Crick (FRS 1959). Crick was a personal friend of Maurice's and was more involved with studies of proteins until the progress of Maurice's research programme and Watson's enthusiastic presence in Cambridge convinced him to put nucleic acids first. The carefully crafted citation for the 1960 Lasker Award, which these three men shared in 1960, put Maurice's name first and accurately referred to '...the painstaking x-ray diffraction studies of Wilkins that provided a most important clue that was pursued in a ingenious fashion and to a logical conclusion by Crick and Watson...'. Maurice's diffraction studies of DNA were not only the alpha but also the omega of the double helix because it left to him to remedy a major flaw in the original (1953) Watson-Crick conjecture.Maurice Wilkin's early acceptance of DNA as the genetic material and his recognition that it had structures that could and should be tackled by X-ray diffraction analyses, not necessarily under his exclusive control, was important in ensuring that the essence of DNA's structure was discovered as early as it was. His success in resolving patiently and successfully all the technical problems, great and small, that arose unpredictably in the course of his work on DNA and RNA was substantial. He was less successful in defending himself against the slings and arrows that unjustly assail those involved in momentous exercises. His pacific acceptance of these misfortunes was typical of a life that had priorities beyond the laboratory and required him to do as one would be done by. Personal Name as Subject:Rosalind Franklin
Watson and Crick
Eugenics before Galton
The literature of eugenics
Germline genetic engineering
Preimplantation genetic diagnosis
A life without pain? Hedonists take note'
Francis Galton and contemporary eugenics
Gene therapy and performance enhancement
5-HTT and AP-2beta gene polymorphism/spirituality
and further reading
The Good Drug Guide
The Abolitionist Project
The Hedonistic Imperative
The Reproductive Revolution
MDMA: Utopian Pharmacology
Critique of Huxley's Brave New World