|Who Will Be First?
It was, in fact, a rush job. Pauling knew that DNA was important; he knew that Wilkins and Franklin were after it and that
Watson and Crick had already made an attempt. He knew that it was a relatively simple structure compared to proteins. And
he knew that whoever got out a roughly correct structure first - even if it was not quite right in all its details - would
establish priority for a very significant discovery.
That is what he was aiming for: not the last word on DNA but the first. He wanted the initial publication that would be cited
by all following. It did not have to be precise.
The hurried haphazardness of the Pauling-Corey paper can best be understood by comparison to Pauling's protein work. Pauling's
alpha helix was the result of more than a decade of off-and-on analysis and thousands of man-hours of meticulous crystallographic
work. Before he published his model, his lab pinned down the structure of the amino-acid subunits to a fraction of a degree
and a hundredth of an angstrom. There was an abundance of clean x-ray work available on the subject proteins, allowing Pauling
to scrutinize and eliminate dozens of alternative structures. Two years passed between the time he came up with the rough
idea for his helix and the time he published it. Much of that interval was spent with Corey, overseeing and refining the precise
construction of a series of elaborate three-dimensional models. None of that went into DNA.
See Also: Letter from Gerald Oster to Linus Pauling. February 3, 1953.
See Also: Letter from Linus Pauling to Peter Pauling. February 4, 1953.
See Also: Letter from Linus Pauling to Jerry Donohue. February 10, 1953.
See Also: Letter from Alexander Todd to Linus Pauling. February 10, 1953.
See Also: Letter from Linus Pauling to Peter Pauling. February 18, 1953.
See Also: Letter from Linus Pauling to Alexander Todd. February 19, 1953.
See Also: Letter from Alexander Todd to Linus Pauling. March 4, 1953.
See Also: Letter from Linus Pauling to Peter Pauling. March 10, 1953.
See Also: Letter from Daniel Mazia to Linus Pauling. March 11, 1953.
See Also: Letter from Linus Pauling to Alexander Todd. March 12, 1953.
Click images to enlarge
"Structure of the nucleic acids." February 1953.
Linus Pauling and Robert Corey examining models of protein structure molecules. approx. 1951.
"The glib assumption that he could have come up with it - Pauling just didn't try. He can't really have spent five minutes
on the problem himself. He can't have looked closely at the details of what they did publish on base pairing, in that paper;
almost all the details are simply wrong"