Template talk:Double helix

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This page shows navigation boxes for linking together Wikipedia articles with information about the discovery of the DNA double helix. The first such navigation box that was created is shown to the right. It was created as a way to both include an image and visually allude to the complementary base pairing that is key to the double helix structure. The Double helix template has two parameters. The first parameter is a descriptive name and it takes the name of the image to be shown as the second parameter. The example of this navigation box (shown to the right) is generated by the following wiki markup code:
{{Double helix|Name=<big>'''James D. Watson'''</big>|Photo=JamesWatson.jpg|Caption=James Watson in the lab.}}

Pauling and Delbruk[edit]

"Neither Pauling nor Debrück made a significant contribution, Chargaff and Astbury did more"

Delbruck had a powerful influence on physical scientists who moved into biology (examples: Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins). Delbruck's thinking about the physical basis of life stimulated Erwin Schrödinger to write his book, What Is Life?. Schrödinger's book was an important influence in attracting Francis Crick, James D. Watson and Maurice Wilkins to work on the problem of the physical basis of heredity. Delbruck's efforts to promote the "Phage Group" was important in the early development of molecular biology, recognition that DNA is the key genetic molecule, and the Phage Group had a particularly strong influence on Watson and his drive to discover the structure of DNA.

Linus Pauling was very influential in developing the means to understand the structure of biological molecules. Pauling's 1951 publication of the structure of the alpha helix of proteins was used by Crick and Watson as an example of how molecular modeling of large molecules is possible without exact knowledge of atomic coordinates. Watson figured out the DNA base pairs using simple molecular model components much in the same way Pauling figured out the alpha helix. Early in 1953 Pauling published an incorrect triple helix model of DNA. Both Crick, and particularly Watson, felt that they were racing against Pauling to discover the structure of DNA. Once the Pauling model reached England, Watson and Crick were given permission to return to molecular model work.

I have no objection to adding Chargaff and Astbury to the template.

--JWSchmidt 21:26, 10 November 2005 (UTC)

Where do you stop?[edit]

Compared to Watson, Crick, Franklin and Wilkins, these are second order players in the story. Where do you stop? Why not include Schrödinger since he wrote the inspirational book? Why not Raymond Gosling, Rudolf Signer, Peter Pauling, Lawrence & William Bragg, Jerry Donohue and John Griffith? Is a box listing all other possible connections used anywhere else in Wikipedia and is it consistent with the style guide? JMcC 15:14, 11 November 2005 (UTC)
Erwin Schrödinger vs Max Delbrück: there is not question that Schrödinger's book was important. I think it is interesting that Schrödinger was stimulated by Delbrück's earlier more obscure work. Also, Delbrück became involved in biology research with profound implications for the career of Watson. Wikipedia users who might come to the Crick, Watson, Wilkins, or Franklin articles for information about the discovery of the structure of DNA might profit by being introduced to the "second order players". It is a judgement call as to which to include in a navigation box. Raymond Gosling is linked to by another navigation box that is on the Wilkins page (and was previously on the Franklin page). I would not feel good about pointing wikipedia users to the current Rudolf Signer article. Are there articles for John Griffith, Peter Pauling and Jerry Donohue? Bragg strikes me as a "third order player"; I think the Lawrence Bragg article says less about his role in DNA research than what is already said about his role on pages such as Francis Crick. I would not advocate "listing all other possible connections".

Delbrück's role[edit]

I have re-read Judson's Eight Day of Creation to check on Delbrück's role. He gets credit for inspiring Schodinger and for passing on information but to give him a big billing (one of six) seems to me to be unnecessary. An unexplained sentence on p145 even says that Delbrück was "no friend of biochemistry".

In a transcript of a conversion between James Watson and David Baltimore, the President of Caltech [1], Baltimore mentioned the experiments by Oswald Avery: “One of the things I’ve always been curious about is why they didn’t have the impact that they might have. The genetics community, particularly around Luria and [Max] Delbrück, never seemed to appreciate that Avery —this is now 1944—and his colleagues had published a paper that quite clearly showed that as chemically pure DNA as you could get would transfer genetic characteristics. And yet the idea that DNA was the carrier of genetic information really didn’t take hold.”

I think it was just that everyone expected that proteins were going to be involved,” said Watson. “And also the covalent backbone—how the nucleotides were linked together—wasn’t established until ’51. It was the Avery result that was the stimulus for Erwin Chargaff to measure the relative concentrations of DNA’s four bases (adenine, guanine, thymine, and cytosine) and for Alex Todd to get his organic chemists to establish the covalent structure. But neither Luria nor Delbrück thought in terms of molecules."

Dna-split2.png
DNA pioneers
William Astbury
Oswald Avery
Erwin Chargaff
Jerry Donohue
Raymond Gosling
Phoebus Levene
Sir John Randall
Alec Stokes
Herbert Wilson

If you have to rank people in order of importance, a difficult thing to do, I would put the following people after Franklin, Watson, Crick and Wilkins:

  • Oswald Avery, for showing that DNA carried genetic material and for proving that it was worth studying to begin with
  • William Astbury, for showing them it was possible to take X-ray diffraction patterns of DNA
  • Erwin Chargaff, for determining the ratio of the bases
  • Alexander Stokes, for working out the mathematics of helical diffraction
  • Phoebus Levene, for getting the components right
  • Jerry Donohue, (see acknowledgement in the Nature article)

Obviously you could go back further a credit Pauling for his work on the chemical bond and the Braggs for inventing X-Ray diffraction, but I would draw the line there. Since Raymond Gosling's name appears on one of the three 1953 Nature papers he should also be in there somewhere. I was taking my argument ad absurdum by suggesting Peter Pauling and Rudolf Signer. Exactly how John Griffiths thought unlike pairing worked has never been made clear. In any case Crick seemed to ignore his hunch.

Claiming that Delbrück rates in the top six for just being a big influence on Watson seems odd, you could also cite his father and mother. Pauling got the structure wrong, though he did propose the correct structure for an entirely unrelated molecule. However in the DNA story, he was someone who unwittingly applied some pressure to Crick and Watson. Again hardly merits the top six ahead of the people listed above. JMcC 20:23, 21 November 2005 (UTC)


When I created the "Discovery of the DNA Double Helix" navigation box I had no intention of creating a DNA double helix "top six". My hope was that other Wikipedia editors would add to the navigation box other scientists who had contributed to the discovery. The navigation box is just a convenient way for Wikipedia users to navigate to pages that describe the discovery. Conventional history of science is an exercise in linking together published results in a logical chain. In the conventional view, the human motivations of scientists do not matter. I admit that I added Pauling and Delbrück to the navigation box mainly to try to open up to Wikipedia users some of the human history of the DNA double helix story. By "human history", I refer mainly to what motivated Crick, Wilkins and, particularly, Watson. Without Watson, Crick and Watson would not have started trying to make a molecular model of DNA in 1951. It is important to understand how Watson became interested in DNA and what allowed him to maintain that interest even after the failed model of 1951. Watson became interested in DNA after reading Schrödinger's book. Not many people know about Delbrück's influence on Schrödinger's book. It is natural for biochemically-oriented scientists to try to paint geneticists as being uninterested in Avery's result. However, the intellectual community that Watson existed in was the community of phage geneticists that had grown up around Delbrück. They did pay attention to Avery's result and worked very hard to determine if DNA was the genetic molecule of bacterial viruses. Some people pretend that Avery's result should have decided the question of "the" genetic molecule, but any reading of history shows that it did not decide the matter. It did deflect some people towards research on DNA and Watson was one of these.
I think a strong case can be made that after the publication of Avery's result, the most organized community of scientists who were testing the idea the DNA was the genetic molecule was within Delbrück's phage group. This was the intellectual medium within which Watson existed and it was the information flow within Delbrück's phage group that not only brought Watson to DNA and to Cambridge but also kept pushing Watson towards further work on DNA after the failed model of 1951. Without Linus Pauling's DNA model of 1953, Crick and Watson would not have made their second attempt at model building in early 1953. It can be argued that the molecular modeling approach used by Watson and Crick arose as an attempt to replicate the style of Pauling's success in finding the protein alpha helix. In the conventional way of producing history of science, all that need be said is "Pauling got the structure wrong". Being wrong about something can be a most important contribution if it drives someone else to success. --JWSchmidt 04:39, 22 November 2005 (UTC)

List of navigation box choices[edit]

Options for linking articles that describe the discovery of the DNA double helix.

{{Double helix2}} This navigation box is shown above on this page. It is the first "single column" navigation box, above right. As is the case for Template:Double helix, this template has two parameters. The first parameter for this template is a descriptive title or "name" for the navigation box. It also takes the name of an image as a second parameter for the template. Shown with Rosalind Franklin image. Code for the example shown: {{Double helix2|Name=<big>'''Rosalind Franklin'''</big>|Photo=Rosalind Franklin.jpg|Caption=Rosalind Franklin by Elliott & Fry}}

{{Double helix3}} This navigation box is similar to Double helix2 but does not use an image.

{{Template:Single strand DNA discovery2}} This navigation box an be used in combination with {{Double helix2}} (see the template described above) in order to provide all of the same links that are in {{Template:Single strand DNA discovery}} (see the next template described below). An example of this navigation box is shown above on this page, below the Double helix2 example.

{{Template:Single strand DNA discovery}} - a "bare bones" single column navigation box with a generic image that can be used for articles with no relevant image. This navigation box is the last one shown along the right side of theis page. It combines in one navigation box links to all of the names that are in Double helix2 and Single strand DNA discovery2.

{{Template:page foot DNA discovery}} This template can be used for short articles (shown below)
--JWSchmidt 16:21, 10 December 2005 (UTC)

Grouping authors[edit]

Would'nt be good to group together lab colleges? There was various separate "team"s in the research of the double helix structure. Khullah (talk) 20:22, 1 November 2009 (UTC)

Missing authors[edit]

In chargaff's rule's article it says it had 23 scientists involved in this subject, but the boxes show only 12-16. Wich is right? Khullah (talk) 20:42, 1 November 2009 (UTC)