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James Watson sells DNA discovery Nobel prize for $4.1 million

8 December 2014
Appeared in BioNews 783

James Watson, the co-discoverer of the DNA double helix structure, has auctioned off his gold Nobel Prize awarded for the discovery for over £3 million.

The 1962 Nobel Prize sold for US $4,757,000 including commission, setting a new world record price for the Prize. The Prize was the first to be sold by a living recipient. Christie's of Manhattan, the auction house that managed the sale, did not disclose the buyer.

Watson, along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, received the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1962 for their contribution to the field of genetics. They discovered the double-helix structure and function of DNA in 1953.

The medal beat the projected sale price and also exceeded the US $2.27m (£1.45m) sale of Crick's Nobel Prize for the same discovery, paid by Jack Wang, head of Biomobie, a regenerative medicine technology developer (reported in BioNews 700).

Watson also sold the handwritten notes for his Nobel Prize acceptance speech delivered in Stockholm for $365,000. The manuscript and corrected drafts for the Nobel Lecture were sold for $245,000.

Francis Wahlgren, international director of books and manuscripts at Christie's, commented that the price and record 'demonstrate the growing strength in the market for the iconic pieces related to the early understanding and development of the implications of DNA and its growing relevance today'.

A letter by Crick to his son sold for $5.3m (£3.8m) in 2013, at more than three times the estimate, setting the world record for any letter sold at auction. The letter, which was written shortly before the discovery was published, outlined the structure of DNA.

Watson has said that he plans to donate part of the proceeds to charity and to support scientific research. In an interview with the Financial Times in November, he remarked that he hoped that the sale of the Prize would allow him to 're-enter public life'. He retired as Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's (CSHL) chancellor in 2007 after the Sunday Times published comments in which he implied that intelligence was connected to race.

Watson has suggested that he will donate part of the proceeds to institutions that he has attended. He studied for an undergraduate degree as a 15-year-old at the University of Chicago, followed by Indiana University, where he received his PhD. He worked with Crick at the University of Cambridge, before moving on to CSHL in Long Island, New York.

For Watson, the Price is More Than Right
Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News |  4 December 2014
James Watson's Nobel Prize for DNA discovery sells for record £3m
The Telegraph |  5 December 2014
Watson’s Nobel Prize Medal for Decoding DNA Fetches $4.1 Million at an Auction
New York Times |  4 December 2014
19 August 2019 - by Eleanor Taylor 
If you asked me to describe how DNA was discovered, I would probably begin by recounting how Francis Crick and James Watson successfully identified the three-dimensional structure of DNA at the University of Cambridge, in 1953, and end my explanation by discussing the role that Rosalind Franklin played in this momentous scientific breakthrough...
20 July 2015 - by Paul Waldron 
'Do you know who Maurice Wilkins is?' I put this question to a number of my friends, most of them scientists, and got a series of blank looks. Only one knew who he was, and she had a degree in the history and philosophy of science...
15 April 2013 - by Dr Shanya Sivakumaran 
The Nobel prize won by Francis Crick, a British scientist, for his part in the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA, and a handwritten letter recounting this discovery to his 12-year-old son, have been sold for over $8 million this week....
15 April 2013 - by George Frodsham 
DNA 60 Years On does an excellent job of highlighting the transformation of DNA from an obscure molecule to a symbol of our identity and individuality and the role it has come to play in our lives...
11 May 2012 - by Heidi Colleran 
'Don't use autobiography to justify past actions or motivations', says James Watson, famed for his part in the discovery of the structure of DNA, in the book he wrote about his life as a scientist...
21 April 2008 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
James Watson, one of the scientists who reported the double helix structure of DNA in 1953, has now had his own genetic make-up completely decoded. A paper published in the journal Nature last week describes the sequencing of Watson's genome to reveal the precise order of...
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