Historic "Lost" paper on structure of DNA now published in Elsevier journal

Manuscript Predating Watson and Crick Article Becomes an Official Part of the Scientific Record

Manuscript Predating Watson and Crick Article Becomes an Official Part of the Scientific Record

Amsterdam, 26 March, 2004 – The March 2004 issue of the Journal of Structural Biology (www.elsevier.com/locate/yjsbi) features a manuscript describing a model of the structure of DNA written in 1951, predating the seminal 1953 article published by Watson and Crick. Although the manuscript, authored by King’s College London graduate student Bruce Fraser, was cited in the Watson and Crick article as “in press," due to a variety of circumstances it was never actually published. 

In fact, the manuscript was never submitted for publication, despite the fact that Maurice Wilkins (who later shared the Nobel Prize with Watson and Crick for his work on DNA structure) urged Watson and Crick to include Fraser’s manuscript with their 1953 publication. By that point, however, Fraser himself had left the King’s College laboratory and the original manuscript was lost. Only recently, a copy of the original article, sent by Fraser to Wilkins, was recovered from Wilkins’ archives.

The manuscript correctly describes the helical nature, external phosphate placement and internal hydrogen bonding of DNA molecules. It incorrectly suggests, however, that DNA is made up of three strands rather than two. 

“In retrospect, the important novel features of the Fraser model were a multichain helical rope structure with the right pitch, and stacked bases hydrogen-bonded together along the axis of the rope. While the number of chains was three, not two, the model did an excellent job of predicting the triplet states that were identified experimentally, years later,” says Journal of Structural Biology Editor-in-Chief Alasdair Steven. “The paper provides a classic example of an important and original proposal emerging from the work of a young scientist.”

The publication of Fraser’s manuscript further illustrates the important role publishers have in preserving the minutes of science so future researchers can benefit from the legacy of scientific discovery.

Herbert R. Wilson, a colleague of Wilkins’ and DNA historian, expressed his interest in seeing this historical manuscript published at last. “When I joined Maurice Wilkins in 1952, I was aware that Bruce had built a three-stranded helical model of DNA with bases hydrogen bonded together on the inside of the helix and with the phosphate groups on the outside. However, I was not aware of the details of the model at that time, and I am pleased to see that some of these details are now in print.“

About the Journal of Structural Biology
The Journal of Structural Biology (www.elsevier.com/locate/yjsbi) publishes papers dealing with the structural analysis of living material at every level of organization by all methods that lead to an understanding of biological function in terms of molecular and supermolecular structure. Editor-in-Chief: Alasdair C. Steven; Associate Editor for Europe: Wolfgang Baumeister.

About Elsevier
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