What Was the Race for the Double Helix?


Quick Answer

"The Race for the Double Helix" is a 1986 made-for-television movie telling the story of the 1950s competition to discover the structure of DNA. It is based on the events described in James D. Watson's book "The Double Helix."

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Friedrich Miescher discovered DNA in 1869, but the structure of the molecule was not known until 1953, although important preliminary work was performed by Phoebus Levine in the 1940s. A 1950 paper by Erwin Chargaff expanded on Levine's work, showing that the amounts of adenine and thymine in DNA were always equal to each other; likewise, the amounts of guanine and cytosine were also equal. Both Linus Pauling and the team of James Watson and Francis Crick were working to determine the exact structure of DNA, but Watson and Crick succeeded in unraveling the mystery first by drawing on X-ray crystallography work done by the English team of Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins. Watson and Crick published their paper on the structure of DNA in April 1953 and, in 1962, shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with Wilkins.

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