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Codebreakers: the story of DNA

Posted March 6, 2013

Materials from  the pioneers of modern genetics, including Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin from King’s, have been collected together for the first time and made freely available in a £3.9m digitisation project from the Wellcome Library.

Codebreakers: Makers of modern genetics, launched this week, contains over a million pages of first-hand notes, letters, sketches, lectures, photographs and essays from the circle of scientists responsible for uncovering the structure of DNA, which also included Francis Crick and James D Watson. King’s was one of five partner archives that provided material for Codebreakers, contributinga large scale collection from the MRC Biophysics Unit including research, papers and correspondence related to Maurice Wilkins, as well as Rosalind Franklin’s renowned ‘Photo 51’, for digitisation.

Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin, together with colleagues at the Randall Institute at King’s, made crucial contributions to the discovery of DNA’s structure in 1953. Rosalind Franklin took the famous ‘Photo 51’ in 1952 and made important studies of the DNA molecule. When Francis Crick and James Watson of Cambridge University obtained this photo, together with some of Franklin’s data in, they were able to use this with their own deductions to build the first correct model of the DNA molecule.

Drawing on material also from Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory, Churchill Archives Centre Cambridge, the University of Glasgow and UCL, Codebreakersoffers an unparalleled and comprehensive primary resource for researchers across the world and is launched ahead of the 60th anniversary of Crick and Watson’s seminal Nature paper revealing the structure of DNA. It holds stories behind the discovery which has shaped our genetic age, from diagnosis to drug development, forensics to food production, and which lies at the heart of today’s biomedical research.

Simon Chaplin, Head of the Wellcome Library, said: ‘Codebreakers reveals the extraordinarily convoluted networks of influence, insight and inspiration which lie behind critical moments of scientific discovery. It is a project made possible by a creative partnership with five outstanding libraries and archives, sharing a goal of free and open access.  Together, our collections offer an extraordinarily rich research resource documenting one of the most significant periods of scientific innovation in human history.’

Source: King‘s College

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