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Monday, 31 December, 2001, 00:30 GMT
DNA pioneer is honoured
DNA, BBC
DNA: The key to life
One of the scientists who revealed the structure of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) almost 50 years ago is to receive an honorary knighthood.

US citizen James Watson - along with Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin - discovered the molecule's now famous double-helical arrangement in Cambridge, UK, in 1953.

Watson's knighthood will be just the latest in a long series of awards that recognise his achievements, including the Nobel Prize for medicine, which he shared in 1962.

A brilliant young scientist in his twenties at the time of the DNA discovery, 73-year-old Dr Watson is now president of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, New York.

Modern legacy

He helped launch the Human Genome Project (HGP), the publicly funded programme which has sought to understand the meaning of the "life code" contained in the long molecule that resembles a twisted ladder.

Graphic, BBC
The discovery of Watson and colleagues opened up some powerful and controversial technologies available today, including genetic engineering, stem cell research and DNA fingerprinting.

The 1953 discovery came only a year after DNA was conclusively identified as the molecule that carries the biochemical information which enables all living things to exist.

Dr Watson and Dr Crick's giant model of a section of DNA, built from laboratory clamps and pieces of metal, is now in the Science Museum in London.

Decoding marathon

The Human Genome Project he helped to launch decades later is an ambitious project to discover the identity and order of every one of the three billion or so key components of the double helix.

At the heart of the molecule are four different nitrogen-containing compounds called bases. The four bases - adenine (A), guanine (G), thymine (T), and cytosine (C) - spell out the genes. It is the genes that cells use as templates to create the proteins which build and maintain our bodies.

The HGP published its draft reading of all the bases and locations of about 30,000 genes early in 2001, shortly after one of the leading UK scientists on the project, Dr John Sulston, was told he too would receive a knighthood.

Other scientists honoured this New Year include Professor Peter Goddard of the University of Cambridge; he gets an CBE for his services to theoretical physics.

Professor Julian Jones of Heriot-Watt University also gets an OBE for his work on pioneering new types of fibre optics.

See also:

30 Dec 00 | Science/Nature
31 Dec 01 | Science/Nature
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