RNA Tie Club

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The RNA Tie Club is a scientific "gentleman's club" of select individuals who contributed to the understanding of DNA and the manner in which it relates to proteins and/or the ability to "read" the "message" in DNA.[1]


Founded in 1954 by American biologist James D. Watson and Russian–American physicist George Gamow to "solve the riddle of the RNA structure and to understand how it built proteins" and with the motto "do or die; or don't try",[2] the club consisted of 20 members, each of whom corresponded to an amino acid, and an additional four honorary members (S. Brenner, VAL. F. Lipmann, A. Szent-Gyorgyi, and another individual), one for each nucleotide.[2]

Each member received a woolen necktie with an embroidered helix on them, hence the name "RNA Tie Club".[2]


Member Training RNA Tie Club Designation Officer designation
George Gamow Physicist ALA Synthesizer
Alexander Rich Biochemist ARG Lord Privy Seal of the British Cabinet
Paul Doty Physical Chemist ASP
Robert Ledley Mathematical Biophysicist ASN
Martynas Ycas Biochemist CYS Archivist
Robley Williams Electron Microscopist GLU
Alexander Dounce Biochemist GLN
Richard Feynman Theoretical Physicist GLY
Melvin Calvin Chemist HIS
Norman Simmons Biochemist ISO
Edward Teller Physicist LEU
Erwin Chargaff Biochemist LYS
Nicholas Metropolis Physicist, Mathematician MET
Gunther Stent Physical Chemist PHE
James Watson Biologist PRO Optimist
Harold Gordon Biologist SER
Leslie Orgel Theoretical Chemist THR
Max Delbrück Theoretical Physicist TRY
Francis Crick Biologist TYR Pessimist
Sydney Brenner Biologist VAL

The Tie and tiepin[edit]

Members of the RNA Tie Club were to receive a black wool-knit tie with a green and yellow RNA helix emblazoned on it. The original design of the tie came from Orgel, with the final pattern being a re-imagining by Gamow.[3][4] Gamow's tie pattern was delivered to a Los Angeles haberdasher on Colorado Avenue by Watson, with the shop tailor promising to make the ties for $4 each.[4] Along with each tie, members of the club were to receive a golden tiepin with the three letter abbreviation of their club amino acid designation. Not all members may have received their pin. Gamow, however, wore his pin on several occasions, often causing some confusion and questioning of why he was wearing the "wrong initials".[4]


Meetings of the RNA Tie Club were friendly, cordial affairs involving cigars and alcohol. This time allowed for bonding and close friendships among this scientific elite, and it turned out to be a breeding ground for creative ideas. While meetings were held twice a year, between meetings the members mailed letters and preprints of articles suggesting new concepts and ideas.[5]

Number of nucleotides in a codon[edit]

Using mathematics, Gamow postulated that a nucleotide code consisting of three letters would be enough to define all 20 amino acids. This concept is the basis of "codons", and set an upper and lower limit on the size of a codon.


Sydney Brenner proposed the concept of a codon, the idea that three nucleotides could code for one amino acid.[6] His proof involved statistics and experimental evidence from amino acid protein sequences.

Adaptor hypothesis[edit]

Francis Crick proposed the "adaptor hypothesis" suggesting that some molecule ferried the amino acids around, and put them in the correct order corresponding to the nucleic acid sequence.[7] He also suggested that there were 20 separate adaptor molecules.[8][9] This was later to be found true by Robert Holley and the adaptor molecules were named transfer RNAs.

Personal successes[edit]

Many members of the RNA Tie Club achieved professional success, with six of them becoming Nobel laureates, namely Richard Feynman, Melvin Calvin, James Watson, Max Delbruck, Francis Crick and Sydney Brenner. However, the ultimate goal of understanding and deciphering the code link between nucleic acids and amino acids was achieved by Marshall Nirenberg, who was not a member of the RNA Tie Club.[10] Nirenberg also received a Nobel prize for this achievement.


  1. ^ Watson, James D: Avoid boring people: lessons from a life in science, pg 112.
  2. ^ a b c Kay L. (2000.) Who Wrote the Book of Life?: A History of the Genetic Code, Stanford University Press. ISBN 9780804734172.
  3. ^ Kay, Lily E: Who wrote the book of life?: a history of the genetic code
  4. ^ a b c Watson, J. D. (2002). Genes, Girls, and Gamow: After the Double Helix. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-375-41283-2. OCLC 47716375.
  5. ^ Friedberg, Errol C: The Writing Life of James D. Watson, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, September 2004.
  6. ^ Brenner, Sydney: On the Impossibility of All Overlapping Triplet Codes, 1956,
    later published in PNAS: PNAS USA. 1957 August 15; 43(8): 687–694.
  7. ^ Crick, Francis, and Brenner, Sydney: Some Footnotes on Protein Synthesis: A Note for the RNA Tie Club. December 1959.
  8. ^ Crick, Francis: From DNA to protein On degenerate templates and the adapter hypothesis: a note for the RNA Tie Club, 1955.
  9. ^ Crick, Francis: What Mad Pursuit 1988, pg 95-96.
  10. ^ Everson, Ted: The gene: a historical perspective, pg 90-91.