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Women In Science

Franklin understood her DNA data, academics say

Personal archives and papers add more detail to Rosalind Franklin’s story

by Laura Howes
April 30, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 14


Researchers have uncovered new evidence that suggests Rosalind Franklin played a slightly different role in the discovery of DNA’s structure than popular culture might indicate. The new materials were found in Franklin’s archive at Churchill College in Cambridge, England, by Matthew Cobb of the University of Manchester and Nathaniel Comfort of Johns Hopkins University. The pair describe their findings in a Comment article that was published online April 25, the 70th anniversary of the day when three separate papers on the structure of DNA were published (Nature 2023, DOI: 10.1038/d41586-023-01313-5).

James Watson’s now-famous 1968 book, The Double Helix, published 10 years after Franklin’s death, painted Franklin in an unflattering light. Watson’s narrative centered on himself and his collaborator Francis Crick. The book contributed to the perception that data produced by Franklin and graduate student Raymond Gosling were stolen and used without their knowledge or consent and that Franklin didn’t appreciate the data she held.

The reality, Cobb and Comfort say, is more nuanced. As a Jewish woman, Franklin would have been subject to prejudice during her career. But she performed valuable work until her death at 37.

“Franklin did not fail to grasp the structure of DNA,” Cobb and Comfort write in their article. “She was an equal contributor to solving it.”


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