Crick, Francis Harry Compton (1916-), was a British biologist who played a major role in the 1953 discovery of the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the substance that transmits genetic information from one generation to the next. He also was critical to the 1957 discovery of how DNA makes proteins. In 1962, Crick shared the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with James Dewey Watson and Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins for their work on determining the structure of DNA.
Their discovery of the double helix is considered to be the most important biological advance of the 20th century. Because of their discovery, scientists have been able to identify the cause of some illnesses as genetic. Today, DNA is very useful in a variety of fields, scientific and other. It is used in criminal cases, in the determination of blood relatives, and in the cloning of animals.
Crick was born near Northampton, England, on June 8,1916. His father manufactured boots and School, and, when he was 14, he attended Mill Hill School in London. There he received a solid foundation in physics, chemistry, and mathematics. He went on to study physics and mathematics at University College, London, graduating with a bachelor of science degree in 1937. He immediately began his graduate work at University College, but his studies were interrupted by the outbreak of World War II (1939-1945) in 1939.
During the war, Crick worked as a scientist for the British Admiralty. He was charged with the task of developing radar technology and magnetic and acoustic mines for naval warfare. When the war ended in 1945, he stayed with the Admiralty for an additional two years. During this time he read, What Is Life? The Physical Aspects of the Living Cell, by Erwin Schrödinger, an Austrian theoretical physicist. Crick was inspired by Schrödinger's work, which proposed the idea that genes were the most important areas in the study of biology and the time had come for an investigation of genes at a molecular level. Crick became convinced that many questions in biology could be investigated with the use of physics and chemistry.
Crick returned to research in 1947. But this time, he chose a new field of study. He found he was interested in the borderline between the living and the nonliving and how the brain works, so he decided to go to Cambridge to study biology. With a scholarship from the Medical Research Council and some financial help from his family, Crick joined the Strangeways Research Laboratory, where he studied biology and did research on the physical properties of cytoplasm, the inside of the cell.
By 1949, Crick was studying the structure of proteins using X-ray diffraction techniques at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. He was still determined to uncover the mysteries of the genetic code. At the time, many scientists believed that proteins contained the key to understanding the chemical basis of genetics. It was generally accepted that almost every cell has a complete set of instructions located in its genes, which determines how the cell grows, metabolizes, and functions. It was also known that these genes are located on the cells' chromosomes, which were known to consist of both protein and DNA. Unlike most scientists, however, Crick was not convinced that proteins held the key to passing on genetic information.
In 1951, James Dewey Watson, an American biologist, joined Cavendish Laboratory. He and Crick quickly formed a close working relationship and friendship. The scientists found that they shared the belief that DNA, not protein, was the critical factor in passing on genetic information from generation to generation. The two were convinced that they could uncover the way genes are passed on if they could determine the three-dimensional structure of DNA. Many scientists shared this same goal. So, in a race against the others, Crick and Watson built a model of the molecular structure of DNA. The model, incorporating all the known features of DNA, and resembling a twisted ladder, is called the Watson-Crick model. Their model has been confirmed by many other researchers since then and is generally accepted as correct.
Crick and Watson suggested that DNA is made up of a double helix consisting of parallel chains of alternate sugars and phosphate groups linked by pairs of organic bases. In addition, they developed a theory on how DNA is replicated. Crick and Watson published their work on the structure of DNA and the replication scheme in 1953.
As with any major scientific discovery, Crick and Watson used the work of other scientists as a basis for their own. British biophysicist Maurice Wilkins and his colleague Rosalind Franklin had come up with the X-ray diffraction data that confirmed the basic model of DNA. Thus, Wilkins shared the Nobel Prize with Crick and Watson in 1962. In addition, Watson and Crick used Linus Carl Pauling's innovation of building three-dimensional models. This helped them show the structure of DNA with a minimum amount of experimental evidenc
Crick also obtained his doctorate in 1953, with a thesis on X-ray diffraction of polypeptides and proteins. Afterward, he continued to study genetic codes and viruses and also investigated protein synthesis. Working with Crick, molecular biologist Sidney Brenner, physicist George Gamov, and other scientists, Watson demonstrated how the sequence of four bases in DNA and ribonucleic acid (RNA) give the instructions to create the sequence of 20 basic amino acids.
The amino acids in turn code for the proteins that control the processes of life. In addition, Crick and Watson suggested a general theory for the structure of small viruses. Crick also has proposed structures for polyglycine II, collagen, and polyadenylic acid.
In 1966, Crick began studying embryology. In 1976, he joined the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, for a sabbatical year from the Medical Research Council. In 1977, after 30 years with the Medical Research Council, Crick moved to the Salk Institute permanently. There, he became involved in studies on how the brain functions and in the research of consciousness and the origins of life. He believes that one cannot achieve true understanding of consciousness or any other mental phenomenon by treating the brain as a black box. He says that only by examining neurons and the interactions between them can scientists create truly scientific models of consciousness. Crick has also been interested in human dreams and vision memory.
Crick has received many awards for his work. He was awarded the Prix Charles Leopold Meyer of the French Academy of Sciences in 1961, and the Award of Merit of the Gardner Foundation in 1962. Together with Watson, Crick was a Warren Triennial Prize Lecturer in 1959 and received a Research Corporation Award in 1962. With Watson and Wilkins. Crick was presented with a Lasker Foundation Award in 1960. In 1962. he was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a fellow of University College, London. He was Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, in 1960-1961. He has written books, including Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature; The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul; and What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery.
Crick married Ruth Doreen Dodd in 1940. They had one son, Michael F. C. Crick, who is also a scientist. Dodd and Crick divorced in 1947. Two years later, Crick married Odile Speed. They have two daughters, Gabrielle Crick and Jacqueline Crick.