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SYMHC Classics: Rosalind Franklin, DNA's Dark Lady

2019-04-13 | 🔗

We're reaching back to 2011 for an episode from Sarah and Deblina about a woman scientist. The men who are usually credited with discerning DNA's structure won the Nobel Prize in 1962, but they used Rosalind Franklin's research. In 1952, she captured the best DNA image available at the time, and the Nobel winners used it without her knowledge.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This episode of stuff you miss than history glasses, brought to you by W W, formerly wait watchers. They have launched the new my Debbie Debbie programme. It is their most groundbreaking and customize proven weight loss plan. I first join W W because I was really looking for something that would help me be more encouraged to make healthier food choices, and the programme has really done that and now, when you join them, I W W program. You take a personalized assessment that includes, are eating habits and you're behaviors, and they match you up with the right plan for you. So joint debate, today and unlock your customers weight loss plan that can make losing weight easier for you had on overdue Debbie Debbie dot com. That's w w dot com to join Debbie Debbie today, with a limited time offer Happy Saturday, everyone today we are going back to twenty eleven for Sarah and Dublin is episode on Rosalind Franklin and her research into the structure of dna and why, for a long time that work went unrecognized enjoying
welcome to stuff. You missed in history class. The production of I hurried use how stuff works. walk into the pot, cast, I'm going to talk of boarding and I'm fair it out, and even if you're, not I in person, at all, you probably know something about dna about stuff in our cells that carries the cells, genetic information and basically determines all of our individual hereditary characteristics, hair color, I color the whole deal. So if you TV, you probably know at least not much, but most of us probably have at least touched on the subject in high school to or will touch on High school, not to rule out our younger listeners and we
recognize what dna looks like that unmistakable double helix that looks like a twisting ladder or a spiral staircase, I remember actually modeling it and middle school today remain. Are there may be some of our younger listeners already now and will that be we'll credited and most high school middle school textbooks, at least when I was in school, which admittedly was Ohio ago, the people credit with discovering the structure of DNA, our James Watson and Francis Crick. That's one of them associations that kind of has stuck in my mind over the years. You know it's like Darwin, in natural selection and Watson and quickened DNA and after they, along with Maurice Wilkins, received the Nobel Prize in medicine for this discovery and nineteen sixty two, so it makes sense that their names would be most associated with this accomplishment, but especially in recent years,
more attention has been paid to someone else who may deserve a great deal of the credit for the discovery of dna structure, and that's a british physical chemists named Rosalind Franklin, though Franklin's involvement in this. The dna discovery has caused quite a bit of controversy in the science world for a number of reasons. Our number one is without question that her research played a really big role in helping fuss out dna structure, but because she died for years before. Watson, Crick and Wilkins received the Nobel Prize. The prize only honours living scientists, so she said for this year. Exceptional, Are, they certainly was Ralph Stein men? Did you hear about that day? One the prize for medicine- and I think the announcement was made three days after his death, so they were and they went ahead and let it stand because they had made the decision before they even knew he was dead. So, though, will then up and you tell them so yeah.
We are more associated with it because they won the word for it and wants an incorrect famous nineteen. Fifty three pay detailing their discoveries in the journal nature. They gave Franklin the tiniest credit and so consequently she's verse, early or has been virtually unknown for this accomplish should have the secondary, then and then the third is in his nineteen sixty eight but chronicling. The discovery called the double helix appropriately enough Watson noted the role Franklin's research played and also revealed that it played a role without Franklin's knowledge. It's a pretty big when their sketchy, so you see where the controversy comes in this revelation raised. A number of questions, for instance, did Watson and Crick Steel, Franklin's research and if they didn't would, she have figured it out. Would she have figured out dna structure on her own, so we're going to address these
questions and more as we take a look at what really went down in England and nineteen. Fifty three when this particular discovery was made, but first were going to take a look at another relevant question here, who was Roslin Franklin, really fell in Watson's book. The double helix Hicks Disk Franklin, a little bet, basically depicted her as stubborn and hard to work with and unfeminine, but other people who knew really characterize her in a different way. What we do know, personality aside, is that she had a passion for science. From the very start. She was Rossland Elsie Franklin in London, England, on July, twenty fifth, nineteen, twenty and, of course, most girls around- that time were expected to have very few goals outside of becoming successful wives and mothers.
But Franklin's parents Ellis Franklin and Muriel Whaley Franklin were more progressive and really encourage their daughter academically. They even enrolled Young Franklin in the Saint Paul School for girls, which was one of the few schools at the time that offered physics in chemistry, lessons to female students and Franklin really excelled in these courses, and she decided by the age of fifteen that she really wanted a career and science, even though her parents wanted her to pursue social work instead so she enrolled at college at the University of Cambridge in nineteen thirty eight and was one of only five hundred women in a class of more than five thousand. She earned a bachelors degree and natural sciences with a specialty and physical chemistry and nineteen forty one and we stop fear for just one. Second, when we have noted her scientific achievement, for her initial ones, to give a little disclaimer and say that we are not scientists here and do not have degrees and science, so we're gonna, be kind of
egg about some of the concepts that we explain here and hopefully listeners will forgive us for that time. Part of it, too, is to focus on that, people in the story involved because it or sometimes, if you get too bogged down in the other details, you miss outline them. You can easily find out scientists details on the continuing on with Franklin's life. After earning her bachelors degree, she got a research scholarship in the study of gas phase Chrome Tiger feet with the chemist Ronald G, W Norris, who was a future Nobel Prize winner himself, but the progression of world war. Two in the fact that Franklin found nourish kind of difficult to work with changed her course of daddy a little bit according to Encyclopaedia Britannica. She served as an air raid warden in London and also left her job with nourish in nineteen. Forty two to do. War related work as a researcher with the british CALL Utilization Research Association with kind of a mouthful
in southern England, and while she was there, she worked and studying the physical chemistry of carbon and coal in the works, did ultimately led to some really enlightening ideas about coal structure. So little better foreshadowing, almost of of work, should do later how to learn the basics of molecular biology and crystallography. While she was there and her work earned her a Phd from Cambridge in nineteen forty five. She also authored five coal related papers, they're still cited today before one thousand nine hundred and forty nine according to an article by Lynn, Osman Elk in physics. Today, Franklin's papers quote changed the way physical chemist view, the micro structure of coals and related substances, though Franklin's work, in addition to getting from praise by current scientists. got her another job offer in eighteen, forty, seven. She moved to Paris to work at the central laboratory of chemicals services where under
marrying, she learned to use a technique called x, Ray diffraction when working with crystalline matter like coal and just to give you a basic rundown of that x, ray diffraction, allow scientists to see the three dimensional structures of molecules by blasting a crystal with x ray so the rays, bounce off the atoms and diffracted different directions and the escaping X Ray exposed photographic firm to create this kind of shadow of the molecule, and then scientists interpret the photo to review the molecule shape in its measurements and allows them to look at it on a closer level. So Franklin use these techniques to discover a lot of details. bees structure of carbon, even as its heeded and changes into other forms, are not just carbon in a static state but transforming miles and Jack from work. We recorded a pike has together in the master,
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information on Malta and the first ever six thirty head over to Maza, USA dot com such Iheart or better, yet go check it out in person at a local area Masilo today so frankly, good work in Paris and by most accounts for three years or so that she was there were the happiest ones of her life. According to that physics, today, article by Oaken Franklin had friends in her Paris lab Would hang out with them sometimes do things like going hiking and she became fluent in French skilled in french cooking and just became a really comfortable with her life there. It provides a really stark contrast for the next period of her life that we're gonna talk out the one in which DNA takes centre stage. So now that I've got that up I shouldn't go right and telling you all about it. I guess so, even though Franklin was happy in Paris, she got lured away by the offer of a research fellowship from Sir John
T Randalls Medical Research Council at Kings College in London and also the chance to work on one of the major scientific challenges of the moment, figuring out. The structure and function of DNA Randal, especially wanted Franklin to use the x ray diffraction techniques that she'd mastered to produce diffraction pictures of dna, but when, no broader in Maurice Wilkins, a British by a physicist who had been working in the same lab on the same project, was not happy have her around. They didn't work well together, and ended up disliking each other, the entire time they work together, pretty much right off the bat yeah biographers of had a hard time figuring out. Why exactly Wilkins in Franklin didn't get along some think it's because he happened to be your way travelling when Franklin got hired and started her job. So when he return, Wilkins originally thought that she was working
before him. Another point of contention is that Franklin of Course had other ideas. She knew she was be working for Wilkins. She assumed that she had three working independently ass. She thought she was the Basi Handout actually, so they both have conflicting ideas of who is boss, and she also had more experience with x, ray diffraction techniques of course mean. That was why she was brought in in the first place and kind of forged ahead and took the lead with that. So Wilkins might have felt that his project was being taken away from him to some degree. Franklin was also said to have a very serious, direct and even argumentative style when it came to her work and Wilkins did not take well to this. It said that when she, argued with him, he would really just shut down and kind of give her the silent treatment. He just wouldn't respond, so they didn't have functioning relations and not at all.
This rivalry is probably one of the main reasons that Franklin was so unhappy at kings College and some have theorize that her unhappiness was also related to sexism toward female employees at King thing that women were even allowed to eat lunch. In the same dining room as men, but there Ben some new ideas on that very yeah. I mean you see that mentioned a lot. The whole lunch thing that they they were. They were excluded somehow from eating lunch with their fellow scientists, but recent for such as Brenda Maddox Franklin biographer have found in sent years at the working environment it kings college was actually more welcoming to female scientists than some have portrayed it to be. They actually did get eat lunch in the same room. So Maddox thinks that Franklin's class. religion she was jewish and came from a wealthy family made actually made her feel more out of place than anything else and the
her demeanour in the lab, with serious and sometimes a brace of many of her colleagues remember her as being witty bright, interesting, even fun in the law though, of course, Franklin was all business and her rivalry with Wilkins didn't stop her from investigating dna fibres that all pretty soon after she got ticking, College Franklin working along with a student named Raymond Gosling managed to get some preliminary diffraction images of a dna molecule as it transformed from its dry crystalline form what she called the a form to be wet B. Form, through an increase in relative humidity, and from this from this observation, Franklin determined that the phosphate groups that make up the backbone of DNA run along the outside of the molecule. One of her first milestones in determining the structure of DNA has previously people thought that they were on the inside Gaston
So we're outside, so this was kind of a major discovery for her. So in November of nineteen, fifty one Franklin gave a talk in London about her latest findings and american scientists. James Watson was in attendance. Why son and then graduate student. Francis Crick had also been working on figuring out dna structure at another medical Research Council unit at Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, but they weren't doing it experimenting and collecting data. They were doing it through direction and model building. So when Watson heard Franklin's talk here really take notes and he misinterpreted her results but still relate he'd heard incorrectly, of course, to crack and they use that info to slap together. A quick model with the sugar phosphate backbone on the inside. So about a week, after the talk, Franklin and Wilkins visited Cambridge to check out Watson and Crick's model, as soon as Franklin saw, that she immediately realize their mistake and pointed out that the phosphate group should be on the outside, and this experience probably just confirmed for Franklin that care
oh and diligent. Experimentation was much more about able than making intuitively rash model building, though after this method, Watson and Crack were actually told to refrain from dna modeling for oh I'd like to take a to go she'll lookers on protein. Exactly so Franklin continued to approach her dna experiments with that methodical research base manner and they helped to her Herman dna density, its unit fell, thighs, water content in her phosphate distances and other really precise kind of calculations, and the one point she got a little bit tied up on those dna helical shape, though some scientists, including her rival Wilkins, were convinced that dna shape with local before they had any proof of it, but as we kind of mention that wasn't Franklin style at all, she needed to prove it through experimentation. She needed to observe it. You have. This was tough
partly because she was so methodical and her research. She started out by focused on the diffraction image of DNA crystalline, a form in which it was much higher to discern that he local shape so at one point after obtaining some from the a form which suggested that DNA was non helical. She actually created this death of the helix view, invitation in July, nineteen and fifty two and some kind of feeling, as evidence. That Franklin was on the wrong track and figuring out dna structure, others and nothing else in her physics today, article note that it was a joke mainly directed at Wilkins, and we actually, I think you ought to read aloud, and now we have a copy of this funeral invitation ants. It's quite interesting.
written by hand to hand. It says it is with great regret that we have to announce the death on Friday 18th July. One thousand nine hundred and fifty two of dna helix parentheses crystalline just followed a protracted illness which an intensive course of injections has failed to rule. If a memorial service will be held next Monday or Tuesday. It is hoped that doctor M H, F, Wilkins Wills, Big in memory of the late helix, a minute signed with her name, I mean, I think this certainly proves that she had a sense of humor. Yes for sure The new year is about us, which resolutions do you, plan to conquer and twenty twenty become more mindful or create healthier lifestyle through diet, exercise and, of course, improved sleep. The sleep number three sixty smart bed helps everyone get the proven quality sleep that will change their life uselessly by Q, app to help create a routine this
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now. Franklin personal, no, but while on information provided by Raymond, Goslin indicated that she believed to be formed to be helix all, but before she could get all of her conclusions together. Something truly unexpected happened. Wilkins and Watson had captain touch and actually became pretty cool. after that meeting where they viewed Watson and cracks incorrect model and in January of nineteen. Fifty three Watson came to kings College to visit with Wilkins and Wilkins showed him be now famous diffraction photo of the bee form of DNA that Franklin had taken in May of nineteen fifty two and that photo which was known as photo. Fifty one was revolutionary because it was the best photo of its kind.
the time and Franklin took the photo looking down on the dna molecules and what appeared with this very distinct ex pattern, which was, of course, clear evidence that the molecule with helix all so Franklin had apparently put the photo in a drawer while she focused on the a form and while it was in that drawer Wilkins was able to access it. Some sources even suggest that he'd been making copies of all of her research to keep her from getting ahead of him in a way and when he showed Watson Photo fifty one though Watson and Quick were the ones who instantly pulled a head in the double helix Watson describes his reaction to the photo he says quote instant I saw the picture my mouth fell open my pulse began to raise. The pattern was unbelievably simpler than those obtain previously and Maurice told me. He was now quite convinced that she meaning Franklin, was
act and Watson immediately rushed back to Cambridge to tell Crick what he'd seen and meanwhile Cricket obtained a copy of a nineteen. Fifty two medical Research Council report, which contained a section including some of Franklin D So with these two sources of information, they were able to start creating a correct model within about a week's time and then, in April of nineteen, fifty three they publish one of the best known scientific papers of the century, called a structure for DE oxy, ribald nucleic asset in the journal, nature and in it they describe their double helix. The dna molecular model with its complimentary double strands, forming the sides of a tree sting ladder and bases forming the runs up that ladder and Frank in link revised draft of their own to appear along with Watson and critics, but partly because of the placement it received in the journal. It seemed to just support Watson and crooks findings, even though her research
with a huge, if not the main reason why their paper existed in the first place, Franklin we received a one line of acknowledgement and that nineteen, fifty three Watson and Crick Paper in his noble prize acceptance speech in nineteen sixty two You Wilkins only mentioned her after thinking. Thirteen other colleagues by Name Watson, encrypted mention, heard all services where the controversy begin and a lot of people wonder whether Franklin would have reached the same conclusion as Watson encrypted on her own eventually, and a lot of people think that, yes, she would have for one thing and public draughts of her paper and information in her no suggest that she was closed to getting the same results in Crick even said in nineteen. Seventy four that she was only two steps away from the saloon and in an excerpt from his memoir avoid boring people that was published in technology review a few years ago, Watson said quote: Roslin Franklin would have seen the double helix. First,
she seen fit to enter the model building race and been better able to interact with other scientists. He also told scientific american quote wherever famous, because DNA is very famous if Rosalind had talked of France's starting. nineteen fifty one shared her dad with him, she would have solved that structure and then she would have been the famous one. They did giver credit here and there, though, of course there was Watson's with book that we mention the double helix, which reveals everything, but according to a two thousand three article in Wilson, quarterly as soon as nineteen. Fifty four Craig had stated quote without Franklin's data: the formulation of our staff, Sure it would have been most unlikely if not impossible. Some take this as evidence that Franklin must have known about the fact that Watson sauce- oh two hundred and fifty one but others knowing her personality in how feisty she could be if she'd known that they had seen it without. permission. She would have been very angry, ultimately Franklin
August. Romantic says: there's no real evidence that she knew what research of hers, Watson and Craig had obtained. So that part still kind of a mystery. What we really know, though, is that Franklin didn't seem too troubled about losing the race to discover the structure of dna, probably because she didn't consider herself in that race in the first place for her, it had all been about discovering the truth. So Franklin was, of course, eager to get out of kings college considering how unhappy she was there, and she did that by the spring of nineteen. Fifty three around the same time that the nature article was published. She ended up taking a position working in the
Crystal Laboratory at Burke Back College in London and its there that she began to work primarily on investigating the structure of the tobacco mosaic virus. She publish seventeen papers while she was there, including for in nature, and she was much happier professionally emanating the fact that she published seventeen papers shows this wasn't a woman to dwell on not getting had it for something that happened in the past is looking forward. Definitely, and incidentally, we should mention that when she left kings, college Randal basically told her. You cannot work on dna anymore, so it's not like she just gave it up. I mean she might have just given it up anyway, but she wasn't allowed to work on and how to shoot land in nineteen. Fifty six she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. There was cancer and her family history, but it also probably had a lot to do with her work with x rays, during which she didn't everywhere led apron or anything to protect herself, and she often had
for the radiation being for extended periods to position specimen. So she just realize at the time how harmful and with these words- and we ve talked a little bit about that before down the radium girls episode factly, though, ironically, during the last years of Franklin's life, though she became friends with Watson and crack even convalescing at crooks home once after one of her cancer treatments and according to that Wilson, Quarterly article Crick once said that they never discussed the the subject of the race to find dna structure. I mean I don't know what you're a suspicious of our little suspicious. Of that I mean I can imagine why it would be a taboo topic between these people. You don't really wanna bring it out, perhaps as I shall, if you're trying to be friends but exactly, but I mean I do, I do wonder what what they really talked about, yeah and if she wanted to know how they got information or anything like that,
We'll never know Franklin died at the age of thirty seven on April 16th, one thousand nine hundred and fifty eight, and there have been at least a couple of viagra fees written about her and documentary done on her. That was aired on PBS called the secret of photo. Fifty one and also a couple of institutions that have named buildings after her, including kings college and bring back college and interesting enough kings, as called the Franklin Wilkins buildings, so she's kind of paired with her for arrival. Yes, so I don't I good thing to point out here is that by but talking about Franklin were not trying to diminish any of the others accomplishments. Obviously we think Watson Encrypt contributed a lot to this end out there modeling know how they wouldn't have come up with dna structure and who knows what would have happened to everyone here deserves little bit of credit. But I think that was kind of the point is that there is enough Roy
ignition to go around? Will dna is such a huge discovery such a huge accomplishment? There is plenty of room for four four people Oh yes, and am Watson did kind of risk and on his earlier feelings about free, Glenn later in his epilogue to his book. He did say quote since my initial impressions of her, both scientific and personal, as recorded in the early pages of this book, and of course, referring to the double helix were often wrong. I want to say something here about her achievements, and then he says that he incorrect both came to appreciate her purse honesty and generosity, realising it too late. The struggles that the intelligent woman faces to be accepted by scientific world, which often regards and as near diversion from serious thinking. I don't think we could put in
better than not enough, thank you so much for joining us on this Saturday. If you have heard an email address or a facebook url or something similar over the course of today's episode, since it is from the archives that might be out of date, now you can email us at history, podcast at Howstuffworks, dot com, and you can find us all over social media at missed in history, and you can subscribe to our show on Apple podcast, Google, podcast, the Iheart Radio APP and wherever else who was in the pod gas stopping us than history glasses of production. Am I not radios? Housetop works for our paths. For my how radio visit thy heart, radio, Appleton guests or wherever you listen to your favorite, shows everybody. So this episode of swift, blue mind sponsored by the all New Mazda, see Ex thirty, which actually just got to test, DR recently in the beautiful mountains of southern california- and I will say
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