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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 April, 2003, 13:38 GMT 14:38 UK
DNA hero: 'Get out and mingle'
By Ivan Noble
BBC News Online science staff

James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA
"We have to make a stand"

Scientists risk losing ground in the moral arguments over the future of genetic technology because they are worried about arousing controversy, DNA pioneer James Watson has said.

"We as scientists have to spend more time with the public," the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA told guests at dinner in London on Wednesday held to honour his 50-year-old discovery.

"It is very important that everyone should be educated about the basic facts of genetics. We have to make a stand," he said.

Professor Watson worked out the structure of the molecule which holds the key to life in collaboration with Professor Francis Crick in Cambridge in 1953.

Why shouldn't you have better children?
Professor James Watson

He went on to become closely involved with the project to sequence the human genome, the blueprint list of genes needed for our bodies to reproduce and function.

Nobel laureate

Watson and Crick's work drew inspiration from experiments carried out at King's College London by Professor Maurice Wilkins and Dr Rosalind Franklin.

Professor Wilkins shared a Nobel Prize with them several years later, but Dr Franklin died tragically young of cancer.

Professor Watson said that scientists should defend the use of genetic technology on human beings provided that it was for the benefit of humanity.

"Why shouldn't you have better children? Why should a woman have a sick child when she could have a healthy one?" he asked.

The dinner at London's Guildhall was part of a week of celebrations to mark the publication in the scientific journal Nature of Watson and Crick's landmark paper on 25 April, 1953.


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