James Dewey Watson (born April 6, 1928) is one of the discoverers of the structure of the DNA molecule. Born in Chicago, Illinois, he earned a B.Sc. in Zoology at the University of Chicago in 1947 and a Ph.D. in Zoology at Indiana University at Bloomington in 1950 before heading to Copenhagen for postdoctoral work.

In 1952, he started at Cavendish Laboratory, where he met Francis Crick. Building on the X-ray diffraction research of Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins, they together developed the proposal of the structure of DNA, which they published in the journal Nature on April 25, 1953. Watson, Crick, and Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery in 1962.

In 1988, Watson's achievement and success led to his appointment as the Head of the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health, a position he held until 1992.

Watson is an outspoken atheist, known for his frank opinions on politics, religion, and the role of science in society. Controversial views he has stated include:

  • That if a genetic test for homosexuality existed, a mother should be able to abort the fetus if she wanted.
  • Linking intelligence inextricably to genes, saying that it would be beneficial to try and improve the human race by selecting against those with low intelligence.

A frequent public speaker, Watson currently serves as president of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York.

Further reading

  • James D. Watson, The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA, Atheneum, 1980, ISBN 0689706022 (first published in 1968)
  • James D. Watson, Genes, Girls, and Gamow: After the Double Helix, Random House, January, 2002, hardcover, 259 pages, ISBN 0375412832
  • James D. Watson and Andrew Berry, DNA: The Secret of Life, Random House, April, 2003, hardcover, 464 pages, ISBN 0375415467