Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid; WILKINS, M. H. F., STOKES, A. R. & WILSON, H. R. ‘Molecular Structure of Deoxypentose Nucleic Acids’; FRANKLIN, R. E. & GOSLING, R. G. ‘Molecular Configuration in Sodium Thymonucleate,’ pp. 737-41 in Nature, Vol. 171, No. 4356, April 25, 1953. [WITH:] 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. [WITH:] 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. [WITH:] 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; [WITH:] PAULING, L. & COREY, R. B. ‘Structure of the Nucleic Acids,’ p. 346 in Nature, Vol. 171, No. 4347, February 21, 1953.

London: Macmillan, 1953.

First edition of Watson & Crick’s paper 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 “in which they elaborated on their proposed DNA replication mechanism” (ibid.), together with the four papers which provided the experimental data on which their proposed structure was based, and further data confirming its correctness. 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.”


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.” Shortly afterwards, Watson and Crick published their paper “Genetical Implication of the Structure of Deoxyribonucleic Acid,” in which they elaborated on their proposed DNA replication mechanism” (ibid.). In this last paper Watson & Crick state their conclusion simply and elegantly: “we feel that our proposed structure for deoxyribonucleic acid may help solve one of the fundamental biological problems--the molecular basis of the template needed for genetic replication.” The two papers in Vol. 172 provide confirmation of the double-helix structure based on further X-ray diffraction data.


The papers of the Cambridge and King’s College, London scientists are here accompanied by an earlier attempt at elucidating the structure of DNA by the great Caltech chemist Linus Pauling, who had already solved the secondary structure of proteins. Pauling’s hypothetical DNA structure – a triple helix with the phosphates in the middle and the bases radiating outwards – was similar to one Watson and Crick had first advanced a year earlier and then rejected on both chemical and physical grounds. It failed to accommodate Chargaff’s observation that the abundance of A in DNA approximately equals T, and C equals G; it also fails to explain the biology and replication of DNA. Watson described his feelings upon reading the Pauling manuscript in The Double Helix (p. 102): “At once I felt something was not right. I could not pinpoint the mistake, however, until I looked at the illustrations for several minutes. Then I realized that the phosphate groups in Linus’ model were not ionized, but that each group contained a bound hydrogen atom and so had no net charge. Pauling’s nucleic acid in a sense was not an acid at all. Moreover, the uncharged phosphate groups were not incidental features. The hydrogens were part of the hydrogen bonds that held together the three intertwined chains. Without the hydrogen atoms, the chains would immediately fly apart and the structure vanish.”


The realization that Pauling was not, as they had feared, on the right track gave Watson and Crick the green light to pursue their own model of DNA. A few days after first seeing their structure, Pauling received an advance copy of the Watson/Crick manuscript. In a letter to Watson and Crick written on March 27, 1953, Pauling noted:

“I think that it is fine that there are now two proposed structures for nucleic acid, and I am looking forward to finding out what the decision will be as to which is incorrect.”

However, he had still not seen Rosalind Franklin’s data; Watson and Crick had. (Interestingly enough, Robert Corey had traveled to England in 1952 and viewed Franklin’s photographs. It is unknown whether or not he purposely failed to provide Pauling with the details of the images.) In April 1953, on his way to a conference in Belgium, Pauling stopped in England to see the Watson and Crick model of DNA as well as Franklin’s photographs. After examining both, Pauling was finally convinced that his structure was wrong and that Watson and Crick had found the correct DNA structure. For Pauling, this event was a single failure in a sea of successes. In fact, the very next year, he would win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry – the first of his two Nobel Prizes.


Grolier Club, One Hundred Books Famous in Medicine, 99; Dibner, Heralds of Science, 200. Garrison-Morton 256.3; Judson, Eighth Day of Creation, pp. 145-56.

Five 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; 4369: pp. li-lx, 131-150, i-xii, 151-172, lxi-lxviii; 4382: pp. ccxciii-ccc, 737-758, i-xvi, 759-780, ccci-cccviii. Original printed wrappers. A virtually mint set. Rare in such fine condition.

Item #4544

Price: $16,500.00

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