James Dewey Watson

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Watson, James Dewey

Watson, James Dewey, 1928–, American biologist and educator, b. Chicago, Ill., grad. Univ. of Chicago, 1947, Ph.D. Univ. of Indiana, 1950. With F. H. C. Crick he began (1951) research on the molecular structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge. Their findings, published in 1953, resulted in the joint award to them and to M. H. F. Wilkins (on whose laboratory's in X-ray diffraction their studies were partly based) of the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Watson joined the faculty at Harvard in 1955 and in 1968 became director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. From 1994 to 2003 he was the laboratory's president; in 2004 he was named its chancellor. From 1989 to 1992 he also was director of the National Center for Human Genome Research, which undertook the Human Genome Project. His chief researches have been in the fields of genetics, bacteriophage reproduction, and cancer. Remarks in a published interview in 2007 that persons of African descent were inherently less intelligent than Europeans led to his suspension and subsequent retirement as Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory chancellor; a restatement of that position in another interview led the laboratory to strip him of his honorary titles in 2019.


See his The Double Helix (1968), The DNA Story (1981, with J. Tooze), Genes, Girls, and Gamow: After the Double Helix (2002), and Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science (2007); biography by V. K. McElheny, Watson and DNA: Making a Scientific Revolution (2003); H. F. Judson, The Eighth Day of Creation (expanded ed. 1996).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Watson, James Dewey


Born Apr. 6, 1928, in Chicago. American biochemist; specialist in molecular biology. Member of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (1962), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1957), and the Danish Royal Academy of Sciences (1962).

Watson graduated from the University of Chicago in 1947. He did postdoctoral research at the University of Copenhagen in 1950 and 1951 and at the Cavendish Laboratory of Cambridge University from 1951 to 1953 and from 1955 to 1956; he was a senior research fellow at the California Institute of Technology from 1953 to 1955. Watson began teaching biology at Harvard University in 1956, becoming a professor in 1961. In 1961 he became a science adviser to the president of the United States. In 1968 he became director of the laboratory of quantitative biology in Cold Spring Harbor in New York.

Watson’s main work deals with the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and the role of ribonucleic acid (RNA) in the biosynthesis of protein. In 1953, together with F. H. C. Crick, Watson proposed a model for the spatial structure of DNA (the double helix); the model made it possible to explain how genetic information is coded in the DNA molecule and to advance the hypothesis of the mechanism of the molecule’s self-reproduction (replication). This work was the foundation of the new field of molecular genetics. Watson and Crick also proposed the hypothesis of semiconservative replication. Watson is also known for his work on the structure of viruses and on the role of viruses in the growth of malignant tissue. Watson was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1962 (together with Crick and M. H. F. Wilkins).


In Russian translation:
Molekuliarnaia biologiia gena. Moscow, 1978.
Dvoinaia spiral’. Moscow, 1969.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.