What If Rosalind Franklin Were There-Having Fun with Watson & Crick's Famous Picture in a Freshman Genetics Seminar

By Jensen, Murray | The American Biology Teacher, February 2011 | Go to article overview

What If Rosalind Franklin Were There-Having Fun with Watson & Crick's Famous Picture in a Freshman Genetics Seminar


Jensen, Murray, The American Biology Teacher


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Students have been playing with famous images for almost as long as photography has existed (Figures 1 and 2). They've drawn mustaches on Mona Lisa replicas, pretended to be George Washington crossing the Delaware, and posed like Napoleon. The image of James Watson and Francis Crick showing off their new double-helix model of DNA is famous in biology. It serves as a symbol of the beginning of molecular genetics and graces the pages of countless textbooks and Web sites.

But most biologists recognize that something is awry in this picture. We now know that those early days were full of politics and shenanigans (see, e.g., Sayer, 1975; Watson, 1981). Shouldn't there be a few other scientists in that now iconic image?

In a freshman seminar course titled "The Science and Politics of Genetics and Reproduction," we attempt to recreate that famous photograph, but with a twist: What if Rosalind Franklin broke into the photo?

Freshman seminar courses at the University of Minnesota are far different from the large lectures typically endured by first-year students. Enrollment is limited to 15, and discussions and group work are heavily emphasized. This particular seminar uses topics from genetics and reproduction to stimulate thought and discussion. We discuss current topics like "Octomom" and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. We also use Aldous Huxley's classic text, Brave New World, to set the stage for discourse on the past, present, and future of birth control and genetic predestination. Learning outcomes for the course focus not only on scientific knowledge, but also on the rich personal history surrounding critical scientific discoveries.

For example, the first day of class includes a presentation on the basic structure of DNA, which is supplemented with photographs of the key scientists involved (e.g., Watson, Crick, Maurice Wilkins, and, of course, Franklin). …

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