Archives from the pioneers of modern genetics to be brought together for the first time

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By | From the Collections

More details have been announced today of the Wellcome Library’s groundbreaking digitisation project, ‘Modern Genetics and its Foundations’.

Tens of thousands of notes, letters, sketches, lectures, photographs and essays, produced by the key players in the discovery of the structure of DNA and the development of genetics – including Francis Crick, James D Watson, Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins – will be made freely available online.

Early sketch of DNA double helix, 1953. Francis Crick’s pencil drawing shows a right-handed helix and the nucleotides of the two strands L0073415

These vast collections contain iconic documents, everyday exchanges, complex research notes and personal ephemera and highlight the extraordinary networks of insight and inspiration behind pivotal moments of scientific discovery. The material will be released in phases from autumn 2012.

Working in partnership with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, USA, The Churchill Archives Centre, the University of Glasgow, King’s College London and UCL (University College London), the archival papers of James D Watson, Rosalind Franklin, Sydney Brenner, Lionel Penrose, J B S Haldane, Guido Pontecorvo, James Harrison Renwick, Malcolm Ferguson-Smith and Maurice Wilkins will be digitised. They will join material from the Wellcome Library’s own holdings, including the papers of Francis Crick, Fred Sanger, Arthur Ernest Mourant, the MRC blood group, Hans Gruenberg and Gerard Wyatt.

The material will offer a comprehensive picture of the complex relationships between the scientists unlocking the secrets of the structure of DNA, in their own words, and give researchers and curious minds access to the personal and professional thoughts, blind alleys and breakthroughs of the circle of brilliant minds whose ideas transformed our understanding of the matter of life.

To tie in with this news, Radio 4’s Today programme broadcast yesterday a feature exploring the project. The feature – presented by BBC Health Correspondent Fergus Walsh – is available to listen to online (scroll down to 0846).  Walsh has also written about the project on his BBC blog, asking the question ‘The most important photo ever taken?  The Today programme’s website also displays some of the images from the papers of Francis Crcick held in the Wellcome LIbrary that will be made available online as part of the project.

Image: Sketch of the DNA double helix by Francis Crick (PP/CRI/H/1/16).

Ross Macfarlane

Ross Macfarlane is the Research Engagement Officer at the Wellcome Library.

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