Foundations | DNA Base Pairs, and Erwin Chargaff
Erwin Chargaff's groundbreaking research, which showed that DNA base pairs had a complementary relationship, laid the foundation for James Watson's and Francis Crick's DNA model. When word spread that Watson and Crick had solved the structure, Chargaff wrote to Maurice Wilkins, who worked with Rosalind Franklin at Kings' College, London--and who later received the Nobel Prize, along with Watson and Crick. The letter brims with Chargaff's trademark humor--part ironic, part ribald. "He wasn't the type to laugh loudly, but he always had an ironic little smile on his face," says Bernard Erlanger, professor emeritus at Columbia, who knew Chargaff while a graduate student at the school. In the letter to Wilkins, Chargaff wrote: "I do not believe they knew how to spell adenine when I spoke with them last year." Chargaff, according to Watson's book, Genes, Girls, and Gamow: After the Double Helix, kept a lively and friendly correspondence with Watson for years. Chargaff died last year (see Closing Bell).