Watson, James D.

Watson, James D. (Dewey)

(1928–  ) geneticist; born in Chicago, Ill. After studying under geneticist Hermann J. Muller at the University of Indiana, he worked on DNA in bacterial viruses as a research fellow in Copenhagen (1950–51). At a symposium in Naples (1951), he was inspired by English scientist Maurice H. F. Wilkins, whose X-ray diffraction studies would contribute to elucidating the structure of the DNA molecule. Watson went to Cambridge (1951–53), where he and the English geneticist Francis Crick delineated the molecular structure of DNA and explained the mechanism of its replication (1953); in 1962, Watson, with Crick and Wilkins, shared the Nobel Prize in physiology for this work. Watson joined the California Institute of Technology (1953–55), then returned to work with Crick at Cambridge (1955–56). Differences in personality between the two caused Watson to join Harvard (1956–76), where he performed research on RNA and protein synthesis. In 1968, Watson, still associated with Harvard, became director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (N.Y.) (1968–88); he then became director of the National Center for Human Genome Research at the National Institute of Health (1989). His popular account of the discovery of DNA structure, The Double Helix (1968), achieved wide fame for its candid revelations about the personalities and politics behind scientific endeavors.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.