[The six milestone papers on the structure of DNA in original wrappers:] 1. WATSON, J. D. & CRICK, F. H. C. Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid; 2. WILKINS, M. H. F., STOKES, A. R. & WILSON, H. R. Molecular Structure of Deoxypentose Nucleic Acids; 3. FRANKLIN, R. E. & GOSLING, R. G. Molecular Configuration in Sodium Thymonucleate, pp. 737-41 in Nature, Vol. 171, No. 4356, April 25, 1953. 4. WATSON, J. D. & CRICK, F. H. C. Genetical Implications of the Structure of Deoxyribonucleic Acid, pp. 964-7 in Nature, Vol. 171, No. 4361, May 30, 1953. 5. FRANKLIN, R. E. & GOSLING, R. G. Evidence for 2-Chain Helix in Crystalline Structure of Sodium Deoxyribonucleate, pp. 156-7 in Nature, Vol. 172, No. 4369, July 25, 1953. 6. WILKINS, M. H. F., SEEDS, W. E. STOKES, A. R. & WILSON, H. R. Helical Structure of Crystalline Deoxypentose Nucleic Acid, pp. 759-62 in Nature, Vol. 172, No. 4382, October 24, 1953.

London: Macmillan, 1953.

First edition, in the form in which they first appeared, of six crucial papers documenting the discovery of the structure of DNA and the mechanism of the genetic code. The first is Watson & Crick’s paper ‘Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid’, which “records the discovery of the molecular structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the main component of chromosomes and the material that transfers genetic characteristics in all life forms. Publication of this paper initiated the science of molecular biology. Forty years after Watson and Crick's discovery, so much of the basic understanding of medicine and disease has advanced to the molecular level that their paper may be considered the most significant single contribution to biology and medicine in the twentieth century” (One Hundred Books Famous in Medicine, p. 362). Watson & Crick’s paper is here accompanied by their paper published one month later, ‘Genetical Implications of the Structure of Deoxyribonucleic Acid,’ “in which they elaborated on their proposed DNA replication mechanism” (ibid.), together with one of the papers which provided the experimental data confirming their proposed structure, a follow up to ‘Molecular Structure of Deoxypentose Nucleic Acids’ by Wilkins et al. Also included is the 1961 paper ‘General Nature of the Genetic Code for Proteins,’ documenting Crick’s team’s efforts to crack the genetic code, amassing evidence suggesting that “the amino-acid sequence along the polypeptide chain of a protein is determined by the sequence of the bases along some particular part of the nucleic acid of the genetic material” (p. 1227), and that each acid was most likely coded by a group of three bases. In 1962, Watson, Crick, and Wilkins shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material.” The first three papers were issued together in offprint from, but the journal issue offered here preceded the offprint and is actually rarer on the market.

DNA was first isolated by the Swiss physician Friedrich Miescher in 1869, and over the succeeding years many researchers investigated its structure and function, with some arguing that it may be involved in genetic inheritance. By the early 1950s this had become one of the most important questions in biology. Maurice Wilkins of King's College London and his colleague Rosalind Franklin were both working on DNA, with Franklin producing X-ray diffraction images of its structure. Wilkins also introduced his friend Francis Crick to the subject, and Crick and his partner James Watson began their own investigation at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, focusing on building molecular models. After one failed attempt in which they postulated a triple-helix structure, they were banned by the Cavendish from spending any additional time on the subject. But a year later, after seeing new X-ray diffraction images taken by Franklin (notably the famous ‘Photo 51’, which is reproduced in the third offered paper), they resumed their work and soon announced that not only had they discovered the double-helix structure of DNA, but even more importantly, that “the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material.”

When Watson and Crick’s paper was submitted for publication in Nature, Sir Lawrence Bragg, the director of the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge, and Sir John Randall of King’s College agreed that the paper should be published simultaneously with those of two other groups of researches who had also prepared important papers on DNA: Maurice Wilkins, A.R. Stokes, and H.R. Wilson, authors of ‘Molecular Structure of Deoxypentose Nucleic Acids,’ and Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling, who submitted the paper ‘Molecular Configuration in Sodium Thymonucleate.’ The three papers were published in Nature under the general title ‘The Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids.’

“Five weeks after Watson's and Crick's first paper in Nature, their second appeared, in which, after explaining the structure and the evidence all over again, they pursued some of the genetical implications. These flowed from the most novel, most fundamental fact of the model: “Any sequence of the pairs of the bases can fit into the structure. It follows that in a long molecule many different permutations are possible, and it therefore seems likely that the precise sequence of the bases is the code which carries the genetical information. If the actual order of the bases on one of the pair of chains were given, one could write down the exact order of the bases on the other one, because of the specific pairing.” This immediately suggested, they said, how DNA duplicated itself. “Previous discussions of self-duplication have usually involved the concept of a template, or mould. Either the template was supposed to copy itself directly or it was to produce a “negative”, which in its turn was to act as a template and produce the original "positive" once again. In no case has it been explained in detail how it would do this in terms of atoms and molecules.” The elucidation of the structure of DNA called for a new kind of functional explanation. “Now our model for deoxyribonucleic acid is, in effect, a pair of templates, each of which is complementary to the other. We imagine that prior to duplication the hydrogen bonds [connecting the bases in pairs] are broken, and the two chains unwind and separate. Each chain then acts as a template for the formation on to itself of a new companion chain, so that eventually we shall have two pairs of chains, where we only had one before. Moreover, the sequence of the pairs of bases will have been duplicated exactly.” Yet perhaps not always exactly: the model, or rather the mistake whose correction by Donohue had cleared the way for the model, suggested for the first time a physical, molecular explanation for the central phenomenon of genetics, namely the occasional, random appearance of mutations. If the sequence of bases carried the information for the organism, then a mutation might be no more than a single change in that sequence. In particular, they wrote, “Spontaneous mutation may be due to a base occasionally occurring in one of its less likely tautomeric forms.” For example, though adenine normally paired with thymine, in the rare event that one of its hydrogen atoms shifted to a particular different position at the moment the complementary chain was forming, then the base could bond with the other pyrimidine, cytosine. On the next cycle of replication, the adenine, taking its normal tautomeric form again, would pair as usual with thymine, but the cytosine would pair with guanine and so, on one of the two new double helices, a change in the sequence of bases would have appeared. This was plausible, immensely exciting speculation: proof that a change of a single base pair can cause a mutation was several years away” (Judson).

“The initial description of the linear duplex structure of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick in the early 1950s was truly a monumental advance. At that time, technology did not exist for isolating a gene, determining its nucleotide sequence, or relating such a sequence to the amino acid sequence of the corresponding protein. Messenger RNA had not been discovered, and very little was known about protein synthesis. It was evident that there were many different proteins in the cells of each organism, and it was becoming apparent that most proteins consist of a linear sequence of amino acids … how the nucleotide sequence of each gene was related to the amino acid sequence of its encoded protein remained a major unanswered question.

“In their landmark 1961 Nature paper entitled ‘General Nature of the Genetic Code for Proteins,’ Francis Crick, Leslie Barnett, Sydney Brenner, and Richard Watts-Tobin finally solved the riddle. They concluded correctly that the genetic code is a triplet code, the code is degenerate, triplets are not overlapping, there are no commas (although introns were subsequently discovered), and each nucleotide sequence is read from a specific starting point” (Yanofsky, ‘Establishing the Triplet Nature of the Genetic Code,’ Cell 128 (2007), 815-8).

Grolier Club, One Hundred Books Famous in Medicine, 99; Dibner, Heralds of Science, 200. Garrison-Morton 256.3, 256.4, 256.8, 752.1, 752.7; Judson, Eighth Day of Creation, pp. 145-56 & 184-5. Norman 534.

Four complete journal issues, 4to. 4347: pp. cxiii-cxxii, 317-336, i-xii, 337-358, cxiii-cxxx; 4356: pp. cclxix-cclxxviii, 709-732, i-xii, 733-758, cclxxix-cclxxxvi; 4361: pp. ccclv-ccclxii, 943-964, i-xvi, 965-986, ccclxiii-ccclxx; 4382: pp. ccxciii-ccc, 737-758, i-xvi, 759-780, ccci-cccviii; 4809: pp. Original printed wrappers.

Item #4407

Price: $15,000.00