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DNA codebreaker Francis Crick dies at 88

Adieu to Nobel prize winner

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Francis Crick, described by some as the father of genetic science, has died after a long battle with colon cancer. He was 88.

Crick, along with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins, first revealed the famous double-helix structure of the DNA molecule. Key to their discovery were the X-ray photographs of the molecule taken by Dr. Rosalind Franklin, a colleague of Wilkins' at King's College London.

Crick continued his investigation of the molecule, working with Sydney Brenner to discover how the information contained in DNA is used to create proteins. This work laid the foundations for the whole of the biotech industry: without it, DNA fingerprinting and genetic screening would be mere science fiction.

In 1962, Crick, Watson and Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine "for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material".

Crick began his scientific endeavours at University College London, where he studied for a Physics degree, graduating in 1937. His postgraduate studies were interrupted by WWII. During the war, he joined the British Admiralty Research Laboratories where he designed acoustic and magnetic mines. During the war, his Lab at UCL was blown up by a land mine, so he stayed on with Admiralty research.

His interest in molecular and neurobiology prompted a change in direction, several years later.

In 1947, he joined the Strangeways Laboratory in Cambridge where he began researching cytoplasm in fibroblast cells. Two years later he transferred to Cambridge's Cavendish laboratory where Max Perutz was investigating the 3D structure of proteins using X-ray crystallography.

James Watson, who joined the lab in 1951 later wrote of Crick: "I have never seen Francis Crick in a modest mood. He talked louder and faster than anyone else, and when he laughed, his location within the Cavendish was obvious."

In 1976, Crick left Cambridge for the Salk Institute where he began working in neurobiology. He was particularly interested in finding a physical link to consciousness. He attributed his scientific interests to a loss of his faith, when he was 12. He said that the things that interested him were the things it seemed science had no explanation for. He continued this work until his death.

"Francis Crick will be remembered as one of the most brilliant and influential scientists of all time," Richard Murphy, president of the Salk Institute told The Associated Press.

He married twice: first in 1940 and again in 1949. His marriage to Ruth Dodd was dissolved in 1947, but not before they had a son. He had two daughters with his second wife, Odile Speed. ®

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