James Watson addressed a celebration dinner in London last Wednesday, held to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the DNA double helix. The 3D structure of DNA, which was discovered by Watson along with Francis Crick, Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins, was published in Nature on 25 April 1953. Watson told guests at the dinner that scientists should defend the use of genetic technology on human beings, and that objections from political and religious groups were slowing the pace of the medical advances that rely on genetics.
Watson said that the future of genetics holds the promise of a much greater understanding of human nature, and that understanding human variability will dominate the next 100 years. 'Variations in DNA are responsible for why we are all different, our predisposition to disease, violence, sense of humour - even Francis Crick's laugh' he said. Arguing in favour of the future genetic enhancement of human beings, he also said: 'I think you should be able to do all you can to improve human life'.
Watson, Crick and Wilkins received the Nobel Prize for their discovery in 1962, but Rosalind Franklin, whose contribution has only recently been fully recognised, died of cancer in 1958. Watson went on to head to the Human Genome Project for several years, the completion of which was announced last week, in time for the double helix anniversary.