Raymond Gosling – the road to the double helix

Posted by Biome on 25th April 2013 - 6 Comments

Raymond Gosling was a key player on the road to the discovery of the double helix, the structure of DNA, which was published 60 years ago and forever changed the face of the life sciences. Sixty years later, Raymond Gosling shares his memories of the race to the double helix in a Genome Biology Editorial.

In this podcast with Genome Biology Senior Editor Naomi Attar (@naomiattar), Gosling recalls the day where he, Rosalind Franklin, Maurice Wilkins and others from the King’s College team were invited by Watson and Crick’s to inspect an early model. As he describes here, it turned out to be somewhat short of the mark…



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Raymond Gosling

Raymond Gosling

Born in Wembley, North-West London, in 1926, Gosling undertook a Physics degree at University College, London during World War II, after which he spent a year learning the “graphi” of biology, at the instruction of the John Randall, by studying Zoology for a year at Birkbeck while simultaneously working as a physicist at Middlesex Hospital. Randall, an eminent physicist, had recently established a forward-thinking, interdisciplinary biophysics unit at King’s College, with Maurice Wilkins as his second-in-command; armed with his year of zoology, Gosling joined the unit as a PhD student, directed to work with Wilkins on the problem of the structure of DNA. Randall and Wilkins were both convinced that DNA would prove to be the genetic material, and were determined to be the first to solve its structure.

While working with Wilkins, Gosling became the first person to crystallize DNA/genes, an achievement he attributes largely to serendipity, and this success prompted Randall to recruit an expert X-ray crystallographer to the project in the form of Rosalind Franklin. Gosling then worked together with Rosalind Franklin to achieve extraordinarily high quality structural data, which was leaked to Watson and Crick (at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge) through two channels. Whereas Franklin favored a methodical approach to solving the structure, based on first principles, Watson and Crick combined the King’s data with model making and creative genius, as well as useful insights about the chemistry of DNA from Erwin Chargaff and Jerry Donohoe, to build the double helix model that has now achieved infamy a global icon of science.