Remembering Rosalind Franklin, the ‘unsung heroine of DNA’, on her 100th birthday

By: |
July 25, 2020 8:10 PM

She made breakthrough findings on DNA and it was her work that was used to construct the double-helix structure of DNA.

British scientist Rosalind Franklin had died at the age of 37 in 1958.   Image: King’s College London

British scientist Rosalind Franklin would have turned 100 today. A victim of male prejudice, she is also known as “wronged heroine of DNA.” She made breakthrough findings on DNA and it was her work that was used to construct the double-helix structure of DNA. Her work was used by three male scientists, who later went on to receive a Nobel prize in the very same DNA study that identified its double helix structure. Yet, Frankiln did not receive a Nobel prize. There are plenty of other reasons as to why she deserves to be celebrated.

It is to note that the renowned virologist’s centenary coincides with the novel Coronavirus pandemic. She had died at the age of 37 in 1958.

When she started working on DNA, there were not many who had even heard of her but since her death, she has become famous. Patricia Fara of Clare College, University of Cambridge, told The Indian Express that she has become “a potent symbol of male prejudice” and her contribution should be remembered differently. Even the inscription on her grave reads that her work on viruses was of “lasting benefit to mankind.”

This is precisely why, remembering her today, during COVID-19 pandemic of all times, is even more necessary. Citing Fara, the report highlighted that her pioneering research in virology proved to have given base for cures, vaccinations and tests. Infact, many of her studies and researches were done in the field of coal and graphite, which became crucial gas-masks (the PPE of that time). In the last five years of her life, she had worked with John Desmond Bernal at Birkbeck College where they analysed the structure of the tobacco mosaic virus. Once this was mapped, she investigated polio as well.

The report said that it is only because of her collaborators and successors, that even today many researchers are able to use many tools like DNA sequencing and X-ray crystallography (processes that are now being used to investigate viruses such as Coronavirus).

For many years, her work had been subdued by many and she kept fighting for equality. However, her top priority remained academic success, according to Fara. While her work contributed to a great extent in dealing with viral pandemics even today, it is only fair that she is remembered on her 100th birth anniversary.

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