Famous Australian actress, Nicole Kidman won the 2015 London Evening Standard theatre awards for her performance of British DNA scientist Rosalind Franklin in Photograph 51. Outstanding!
Rosalind Elsie Franklin was a brilliant biophysicist and X-ray crystallographer whose research and discovery work led to explain the structure of DNA.
Born in 1920 in London into a family who valued education and public service; her great uncle became the first practicing Jew to sit on the British cabinet.
Already from early childhood, Rosalind Elsie Franklin displayed exceptional intelligence and excelled in science.
In 1941, she was awarded Second Class Honors in her finals and started to work for the British Coal Utilization Research Association to study the physical chemistry of carbon and coal.
Thereafter, Rosalind Franklin was appointed at the Laboratoire Central des Services Chimiques de l’Etat in Paris where she worked with crystallographer Jacques Mering. He taught her X-ray diffraction, which would largely play into her meaningful role in learning the structure of DNA.
Back in London, she began working as a research at King’s College London in the biophysics unit, where director John Randall used her expertise and X-ray diffraction techniques on DNA fibers.
It is here, in Randall’s lab, that she crossed paths with Maurice Wilkins. Unfortunately, the two of them had a very poor working relationship and it slowed their progress considerably.
So, Rosalind decided to work alone with her PhD student, Raymond Gosling and made an amazing discovery: together they produced the X-ray Image Photograph 51 that made apparent the double helical structure of DNA. The diffraction pattern determined the double helix strands.
Franklin used two different fibers of DNA, one more highly hydrated than the other. From this, she deduced the basic dimensions of DNA strands and that phosphates were on the outside of what was probably a helical structure.
Jealous, Wilkins was upset to learn that his assistant was in fact a formidable researcher in her own right. He removed the photo from her data records without her knowing and took it to show to competing scientist James Watson, who was working on his own DNA model with Francis Crick at Cambridge.
Watson had a revelation: upon seeing the X-ray diffraction picture, he realized that DNA was helical; it was the one bit of information that the two scientists needed to complete an accurate model of the structure of DNA.
Consequently, the two researchers proudly announced to have found what they called “the secret of life”.
Last but not least, in 1962, Wilkins, Crick and Watson were awarded the Nobel Prize for the double-helix model of DNA. Rosalind Franklin had died from cancer four years earlier.
As a result of this startling discovery considerable progress on scientific and medical fields has opened the door to a new area of research: genetics.
The ability to sequence DNA proved to be a turning point in biological sciences. Indeed, the advancements made on sequencing technologies over the last years have enable understanding the human genome and the importance of DNA to life and health.
Predictive medicine has rise a new era. As a matter of fact, the future of health is preventive and genetic tests are paving the way towards an accelerated adoption of this approach.
Thanks to the spectacular progress of this discipline it is now possible to identify genetic susceptibility factors for hundreds of diseases.
For example, the detection of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes variants predisposing ovarian and breast cancer allows to take effective and personalized preventive measures before cancer develops. To understand how it works, you can check Serenity test: the new generation screening to detect the risk of ovarian and breast cancer in women of all ages.
To say it with Rosalind Franklin: Science and every day life cannot and should not be separated (Rosalind Franklin in a letter to Ellis Franklin, 1940).