Francis Crick DNA Discovery, His Letter Sold, My Letters Kept

by Sherry Riter in Dad,Family,Fun Facts,Mom

Two people.

One redhead.

A bond that nothing on earth can ever break or diminish.

How much is a letter worth?

What Is DNA?

DNA stands for a very long word that most people can’t remember or pronounce and really don’t care about either. Deoxyribonucleic acid is the long version for the acronym DNA. It is a molecule that has all the genetic instructions for the functioning of all known living organisms. I think it is mind boggling that DNA is in EVERY living thing. Although it is the “same” kind of coding, it is “different” for everything.

DNA structure Francis Crick Discovery

Who Discovered DNA?

On April 25, 1953, an Englishman named Francis Crick and his American colleague, James Watson, published their DNA findings in the journal Nature. It was the first correct double-helix model of DNA and was based on the information that DNA bases were paired and on one picture. The photo was taken by Raymond Gosling in May 1952, and simply called “Photo 51.”

Photo 51 Francis Crick DNA Discovery

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1962 was awarded jointly to Francis Harry Compton Crick, James Dewey Watson and Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins ‘for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material.'”

Before The DNA Discovery Was Published In Nature

On March 19, 1953, over a month before the DNA discovery was published in the journal, Nature, Crick wrote a letter to his twelve year old son, Michael, who was a student at a British boarding school at the time.

The seven page letter (transcript courtesy Christie’s) is sixty years old and explains how DNA is replicated through a process where the genetic material is passed into a new cell. The letter reads as follows:

19 Portugal Place Cambridge
19 March ’53

My Dear Michael,

Jim Watson and I have probably made a most important discovery. We have built a model for the structure of de-oxy-ribose-nucleic-acid (read it carefully) called D.N.A. for short. You may remember that the genes of the chromosomes — which carry the hereditary factors — are made up of protein and D.N.A.

Our structure is very beautiful. D.N.A. can be thought of roughly as a very long chain with flat bits sticking out. The flat bits are called the “bases”. The formula is rather

Francis Crick DNA Discovery Letter pg 1

like this


Now we have two of these chains winding round each other — each one is a helix — and the chain, made up of sugar and phosphorus, is on the outside, and the bases are all on the inside. I can’t draw it very well, but it looks

Francis Crick DNA Discovery Letter pg 2

like this


The model looks much nicer than this.

Now the exciting thing is that while these are 4 different bases, we find we can only put certain pairs of them together. Thee bases have names. They are Adenine, Guanine, Thymine & Cytosine. I will call them A, G, T and C. Now we find that the pairs

Francis Crick DNA Discovery Letter pg 3

we can make — which have one base from one chain joined to one base from another — are

only A with T and G with C.

Now on one chain, as far as we can see, one can have the bases in any order, but if their order is fixed, then the order on the other chain is also fixed. For example, suppose the first chain goes (points to string of letters on left), then the second must go (points to string of letters on right).

Francis Crick DNA Discovery Letter pg 4

It is like a code. If you are given one set of letters you can write down the others.

Now we believe that the D.N.A. is a code. That is, the order of the bases (the letters) makes one gene different from another gene (just as one page of print is different from another). You can now see how Nature makes copies of the genes. Because if the two chains unwind into two separate chains, and if each chain then makes another chain come together on it, then because A always goes with T, and G with C, we shall get two copies where

Francis Crick DNA Discovery Letter pg 5

we had one before. For example


Francis Crick DNA Discovery Letter pg 6

In other words we think we have found the basic copying mechanism by which life comes from life. The beauty of our model is that the shape of it is such that only these pairs can go together, though they could pair up in other ways if they were floating about freely. You can understand that we are very excited. We have to have a letter off to Nature in a day or so. Read this carefully so that you understand it. When you come home we will show you the model.

Lots of love, Daddy

Francis Crick DNA Discovery Letter pg 7

So Crick shared his phenomenal discovery with his son and ended the letter, “Lots of love, Daddy.” At the time, no one knew just how big the discovery of DNA would prove to be, but it really is the basics of how “life comes from life” or in other words, the secret of life. Even so, for a twelve year old boy, the comfort and emotional bonding from the words, “Lots of love, Daddy,” can’t be exaggerated. In fact, Michael saved his father’s letter for sixty years, so it apparently meant something to him.

Well, it means a lot to other people too apparently. Michael Crick put the letter up for auction with Christie’s in New York City. On April 10, 2013, an anonymous buyer who made a bid on the phone during the auction at Christie’s, ended up paying the highest amount ever paid for a letter. With the bid and buyer’s premium included, the “secret of life” letter sold for $6,059,750.

Go ahead and read that last sentence again. Your eyes didn’t play tricks on you. That sure was a whole bunch of money!

Crick’s Letter Sold, My Letters Are Kept

Neither of my parents had a career as a molecular biologist, biophysicist, neuroscientist, and they did not discover anything like a DNA molecule. They did, however, fall in love, marry and gave me life. That’s no small thing. Because of their union, I’m alive, my sister was born and we both had daughters of our own.

Although Dad was absent from much of my life and has passed away, I know that he loved me the best he could love me while he lived. Mom has always been in my life and I know she loves me too. So I feel blessed that both my parents were glad I was born and showed/show me love as their daughter.

letters mom dad to me

Over the years, Mom and Dad have written me letters by hand, signed cards with little notes and Mom types me emails too. Needless to say, I have the letters, notes and cards tucked away all over the place in drawers, books, cabinets and my jewelry box. I can immediately recognize the loopy letters of Dad’s writing and the slanted letters of Mom’s writing. Seeing their handwriting comforts me and their words make me feel loved.

Actually, I never feel pretty or all that great of a person (guess I have low self-esteem), but when I remember how Dad used to hug me and tell me how proud he was of me or when Mom has done the same thing while planting a kiss on my cheek, I feel beautiful, cared for and someone special.

Nothing my parents have written me will be put up for auction at Christie’s for millions of dollars, but to me every note is priceless and that’s way more than $6,059,750.

letters mom dad loving me

This post was written by...

Sherry Riter is also known as The Redhead Riter. Sherry is witty, intelligent and addictive as she writes about cooking, family, marriage, failures, blogging tips, art, humor, inspiration, travel, PTSD and aging. Her goal is to inspire, motivate, educate and to make her audience laugh. Sherry embraces being a redhead and helps others to see the redhead point of view…"In some eras redheads were worshipped while others thought us witches. Personally, I like the former and think every day is 'Love a redhead day!'" She can also be found on Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, Linkedin, tweeting as @TheRedheadRiter and you can subscribe to her free blog feed.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joan July 7, 2013 at 10:30 am

I have saved all the letters and cards my parents wrote to me. When I read them they always bring a smile to my face. Mom and Dad are gone now, but their love for me still lives on in the letters and cards they sent me. I agree with you. Letters and cards from our loved ones are priceless! 🙂


2 Sherry Riter July 7, 2013 at 11:58 am

😀 I bet we aren’t the only ones who save letters from our parents. That’s really why I started this blog. Most of it is one long letter to my daughter.


3 teresa July 7, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Some of this blog felt like went right over my head. Not the value of letters though, for I have so many of you , Aud, Alyssa, and Britt. My mom and dad too.

They will bury Aunt Ann on Tuesday. She is the last of my Aunts. No more family on either side except for cousins. Life is short and learning is hard. I have made many mistakes and I suffer from some still. You girls were never a mistake, you have been my life and oh what joy and color you have brought to me.

As I sat in church this morning I was so ill and felt so bad that I thought maybe my time is nearly up and how I would miss you four. Then I thought how long I have been here and I felt happy at all I have accomplished. I only hope I have done enough to pass, lol.

I love you moose. You are so much more than just a daughter.


4 Sherry Riter July 7, 2013 at 12:17 pm

I’m not going to give anyone else a test, but I’ll bring your DNA test over on Monday, so study up! LOL

I saw the news about your aunt and I’m sorry. I know she was special to everyone and that you will feel a loss.

Sitting in church wishing your time was over isn’t going to make it any faster. LOL Sometimes you talk like you’re 98 years old. Think how long all the women live in your family. Yep, you are going to be around for a very, very, very long time. I’m happy about that too! 😀

I love you too, Mom. Thank you. I’ve tried hard to be a good daughter.


5 Skip_D July 10, 2013 at 5:39 pm

a remarkable post! …a remarkable letter! …I too have saved most, if not all, of the letters from my parents & other important people in my life, although I don’t currently know which boxes they’re in :/

I could never willingly part with any of these letters of mine… I can’t imagine how Crick the Younger could agree to sell such an amazing, historic yet personal letter!

unlike Crick the Younger, you & I understand the eternal pricelessness of such letters!!!


6 Sherry Riter July 11, 2013 at 6:06 am


Yes, totally priceless. Crick the younger did say that he made LOTS of copies of the letter before he sold it.


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