James Watson


October 17, 2021

James Dewey Watson (Chicago, April 6, 1928) is an American molecular biologist who discovered the structure of DNA in 1953, together with Francis Crick, Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins. Watson, along with Crick and Wilkins, received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962.


Watson was born to James Watson (collector) and Jean Mitchell (administrative assistant). In 1943 he went on to study zoology at the University of Chicago where he received a degree in zoology in 1947. He received his doctorate in 1950 from Indiana University Bloomington. He then traveled to Copenhagen where he did postdoctoral research. In 1952 he went to work at the Cavendish laboratory in Cambridge, where he met Francis Crick. Building on Rosalind Franklin and Wilkins' X-ray diffraction results, they arrived at a model for the structure of DNA that was published by him and Crick in the authoritative scientific journal Nature in 1953.


Watson was involved in the Human Genome Project, which he directed from 1988 to 1992. In 1993 he was awarded the Copley Medal. He is a staunch atheist with many outspokenly controversial opinions on genetic engineering, racially determined traits, and abortion provocatus. Professor E.O. Wilson described him as "The most obnoxious person I've ever met." In October 2007, James Watson was fired as director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island in New York. This was decided following an interview by Watson with the British newspaper The Sunday Times in which he said he was "gloomy about the perspective of Africa" ​​because "all our social policies are based on their intelligence being the same as ours." ", adding that while he hoped everyone would be equal, "everyone who has ever dealt with black workers has found this to be untrue". Watson was also fired from the boards of several companies because of this interview. In November 2014, Watson again apologized for his statements, which he described as "very stupid". He sold his Nobel Prize medal in hopes of getting back into favour. He wanted to donate part of the proceeds from the sale to scientific institutions. The sale yielded approximately 3.8 million. However, the buyer decided not to keep the medal for himself, but gave it back to Watson. In 2019, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory - where Watson had been in charge for several years - severed all ties with the scientist after repeated statements about the link between intelligence and race. In the PBS documentary "American Masters: Decoding Watson," Watson reiterated his views that people of color are arguably less intelligent. His former employer also withdrew a number of honorary titles Watson had received ("chancellor emeritus", "Oliver R Grace professor emeritus").

James Watson's DNA

To celebrate the complete description of the human genome (see Human Genome Project), Watson's own DNA was published in 2008 as "project Jim" by the journal Nature. Later in 2008, it became clear that Watson had negotiated an exception for his ApoE gene. An abnormality in this gene is the most important risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. When the journal European Journal of Human Genetics Watson calculated in October 2008 that surrounding, public pieces of DNA also made it possible to unravel the sequence of gene ApoE, James Watson had two million base pairs from his published genome obscured.

Marriage and family

Watson married in 1968. The marriage produced two sons (1970 and 1972).

Honors and Awards

Honorary degrees

Academy Memberships



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