Crick and Watson described the double helix structure of DNA in a 1953 edition of Nature and their research paved the way to understanding and 'cracking' the genetic code. Along with Maurice Wilkins, they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962 for their discovery.
'It was one of the most important papers ever published and we sort of knew that when it came out', Watson said at the unveiling of the memorial.
Professor Sir Alan Fersht, master of Caius College, said: 'It's roughly equivalent to the theory of relativity, discovering the laws of gravity and it's the keystone of modern biology'.
Crick went on to work alongside Brenner working out the sequences of DNA bases that correspond to the amino acids used to make protein. Now retired, Watson went on to lead the US division of the Human Genome Project from 1988 to 1992 that eventually drafted the first complete human genome in 2000.
Crick's ground-breaking research provided the fundamental platform that paved new ways of thinking about genetic diagnosis, treatments, and genetic screening as well as opening up new areas in genetics such as cloning and genetic modification. Watson said Crick was the 'brightest person I ever interacted with'.
The event was sponsored by the Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS) and the Agouron Institute, and included a series of lectures given by colleagues and historians of science.
A seven-page letter written by Crick to his son describing the idea of the double helix structure and genetic replication recently sold at auction for $6 million, with the Nobel prize medal attracting over $2 million at another (reported in BioNews 700). Large donations from the proceeds were made to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California, USA and the new Francis Crick Institute in London.