Birthdays, Nobel Prizes and Basic Research

James D. Watson
James D. Watson. Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

April 6 is the birthday of two Nobel Prize winners in physiology or medicine—James Watson and Edmond H. Fischer. They have also both been NIGMS-supported researchers.

Double helix model
In 1953, Watson and Crick created their historic model of the shape of DNA: the double helix. Credit: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory archives.

James D. Watson, born on this day in 1928, was honored with the Nobel Prize in 1962. He shared it with Francis H. Compton Crick and Maurice Wilkins “for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material.” This laid the groundwork for future discoveries. In the early 1950s, Wilkins and another scientist, Rosalind Franklin, worked to determine DNA’s structure. In 1953, Watson and Crick discovered its shape as a double helix. This twisted ladder structure enabled other researchers to unlock the secret of how genetic information is stored, transferred and copied. Franklin is widely recognized as having played a significant role in revealing the physical structure of DNA; due to her death at age 37 in 1958, Franklin did not earn a share of the prize. Read more about DNA.

Edmond H. Fischer
Edmond H. Fischer. Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Betsythedevine.

Edmond H. Fischer, born April 6, 1920, shared the 1992 Nobel Prize with Edwin G. Krebs (also an NIGMS-supported researcher) for discovering “reversible protein phosphorylation as a biological regulatory mechanism,” a biochemical process that changes the activity of a protein. This process, which the researchers first described in the 1950s, is now known to influence many medically relevant cellular functions, such as the prevention of organ transplant rejection and the mobilization of glucose from glycogen. Fischer describes his work with Krebs in this iBiology video Exit icon.

Fischer and Watson are among 40 NIGMS-supported Nobel laureates in physiology or medicine (along with 43 Nobel Prize winners in chemistry). See our fact sheet and the complete list of NIGMS Nobelists; then test your knowledge on our Nobel Prize crossword puzzle.

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