On 6 May 1952, at King’s College London in London, England, Rosalind Franklin photographed her fifty-first X-ray diffraction pattern of deoxyribosenucleic acid, or DNA. Photograph 51, or Photo 51, revealed information about DNA’s three-dimensional structure by displaying the way a beam of X-rays scattered off a pure fiber of DNA. Franklin took Photo 51 after scientists confirmed that DNA contained genes. Maurice Wilkins, Franklin’s colleague showed James and Francis Crick Photo 51 without Franklin’s knowledge. Watson and Crick used that image to develop their structural model of DNA. In 1962, after Franklin’s death, Watson, Crick, and Wilkins shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their findings about DNA. Franklin’s Photo 51 helped scientists learn more about the three-dimensional structure of DNA and enabled scientists to understand DNA’s role in heredity.

In April 1953, Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling, published “Molecular Configuration in Sodium Thymonucleate,” in the scientific journal Nature. The article contained Franklin and Gosling’s analysis of their X-ray diffraction pattern of thymonucleate or deoxyribonucleic acid, known as DNA. In the early 1950s, scientists confirmed that genes, the heritable factors that control how organisms develop, contained DNA. However, at the time scientists had not determined how DNA functioned or its three-dimensional structure. In their 1953 paper, Franklin and Gosling interpret X-ray diffraction patterns of DNA fibers that they collected, which show the scattering of X-rays from the fibers. The patterns provided information about the three-dimensional structure of the molecule. “Molecular Configuration in Sodium Thymonucleate” shows the progress Franklin and Gosling made toward understanding the three-dimensional structure of DNA.

In 1956, Gunther Stent, a scientist at the University of California Berkeley in Berkeley, California, coined the terms conservative, semi-conservative, and dispersive to categorize the prevailing theories about how DNA replicated. Stent presented a paper with Max Delbrück titled “On the Mechanism of DNA Replication” at the McCollum-Pratt Symposium at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. In response to James Watson and Francis Crick’s proposed structure of DNA in 1953, scientists debated how DNA replicated. Throughout the debate, scientists hypothesized different theories about how DNA replicated, but none of the theories had sound experimental data. Stent introduced DNA replication classes that, if present in DNA, would yield distinct experimental results. Conservative, semi-conservative, and dispersive DNA replication categories shaped scientists' research into how DNA replicated, which led to the conclusion that DNA replicated semi-conservatively.

In April 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick published “Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure of Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid” or “A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid,” in the journal Nature. In the article, Watson and Crick propose a novel structure for deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA. In 1944, Oswald T. Avery and his group at Rockefeller University in New York City, New York published experimental evidence that DNA contained genes, the biological factors called genes that dictate how organisms grow and develop. Scientists did not know how DNA’s function led to the passage of genetic information from cell to cell, or organism to organism. The model that Watson and Crick presented connected the concept of genes to heredity, growth, and development. As of 2018, most scientists accept Watson and Crick’s model of DNA presented in the article. For their work on DNA, Watson and Crick shared the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Maurice Wilkins.

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