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Francis Crick

July 29, 2004 By Helen Pilcher This article courtesy of Nature News.

DNA code-breaker dies at 88.

"We wish to suggest a structure for the salt of deoxyribose nucleic acid (DNA). This structure has novel features which are of considerable biological interest."

So began Francis Crick and James Watson in their ground-breaking Nature paper1, published 51 years ago. The paper describes the structure of DNA. The discovery was to change the face of modern-day science and medicine.

Sadly, Francis Crick died yesterday after a long battle with colon cancer. He passed away at Thornton Hospital in La Jolla, California.

"I will always remember Francis for his extraordinarily focused intelligence and for the many ways he showed me kindness and developed my self-confidence," says his long-time colleague Watson.

"He treated me as though I were a member of his family," he adds. "Being with him for two years in a small room in Cambridge was truly a privilege. I always looked forward to being with him and speaking to him, up until the moment of his death. He will be sorely missed."

From DNA to consciousness

Early in his life, Crick trained and worked as a physicist, but he switched to biology after the Second World War. In 1962, Watson and Crick were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, which they shared with Maurice Wilkins. Crick went on to crack the genetic code that translates DNA into protein, and then turned to studying consciousness at California's Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

When asked what he hoped his future contribution would be, he said: "To excite younger people to study the problem of consciousness." In the 1980s and 1990s, Crick championed the idea that aspects of consciousness could be correlated to specific physiological changes in the brain. It was a radical idea at the time, and his approach gave the field much-needed respectability.

Recently he was involved in the development of a new research centre at Salk. Researchers at the Crick-Jacobs Center for Computational and Theoretical Biology will build on Crick's work, using computers and biological techniques to study how genes regulate brain activity.

"We are all greatly saddened to learn of the death of Francis Crick, who was known worldwide for his contribution to discovering the structure of DNA," says Robert May, the president of the Royal Society in London.

Crick became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1959, primarily for his work on DNA, but also for his study of the structure of proteins and viruses.

May continues: "Francis Crick made an enormous contribution to science and his discoveries helped to usher in a golden age of molecular biology. His death is a sad loss to science and our thoughts are with his family and colleagues."


  1. Watson J. D. & Crick F. H. C. Nature, 171. 737 - 738 (1953).


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