James Watson Biography, Books, Discovery, Quotes, Facts

James Dewey Watson is an American geneticist, molecular biologist, zoologist, and biophysicist. He is known for his decisive work in discovering the molecular structure of DNA, the hereditary material responsible for the transmission of genetic information from one generation to the other. He earned the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with Maurice Wilkins and Francis Crick and  in 1962. In the subsequent years, it has been recognized that James and his colleagues did not attribute their colleague Rosalind Franklin for her contributions to determining the structure of DNA. James Watson, who is the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, is still alive.

James earned degrees at Indiana University and the University of Chicago and completed his post-doctoral education at the University of Copenhagen. He worked at the University of Cambridge and met his collaborator, Francis Cricks. Watson also served in the Harvard University faculty and promoted research in molecular biology. James is also the writer of many books, including the textbook of Molecular Biology of The Gene and The Double Helix. Watson was also associated withNational Institute of Health and helped to make the Human Genome Project which was completed in 2002.

Birth6 April 1928
Birth NameJames Dewey Watson
Birth PlaceChicago, Illinois, United States
ProfessionGeneticist, Zoologist, molecular Biologist, and Biophysicist
Famous ForDNA Structure and Molecular Biology
ThesisThe Biological Properties Of X-ray Inactivated Bacteriophage
SpouseElizabeth Lewis
Doctoral StudentsMario Capecchi,  Bob Horvitz, Peter B Moore,Joan Steitz, David Schlessinger

Early Life:

James Dewey Watson was born on 6 April 1928, in Chicago, Illinois, United States. His father, James D. Watson, was a tax collector of Scottish ancestry. He was the only son of his parents. He was raised Catholic, and later he described himself as an escapee from the catholic religion. Watson stated that the luckiest thing that happened to him was that his father did not believe in God.


James grew up on the south side of Chicago and attended public schools, including South Shore High School and Horace Mann Grammar School. James loved watching birds with his father and wanted to become an ornithologist. Watson also appeared in the kid’s quiz. He was enrolled in the University of Chicago at the age of 15 and was awarded by tuition scholarship at the University. He learned factor analysis from his professor Louis Leon Thurstone.

After reading the book by Erwin Schrodinger, What Is Life, James changed his decision to study ornithology and wanted to become a geneticist. James completed his BS in Zoology at The University of Chicago in 1947. After graduation, he left the University and became a graduate student at Indiana University. He completed his Ph.D. from Indiana University in 1950, and Salvador Luria was his doctoral advisor.

Personal Life:

Watson is an atheist.  He was born on April 6, 1928, in Chicago, Illinois, USA. He was the only son of James D. Watson, entered into matrimony with Elizabeth Lewis in 1968, and together, they are the proud parents of two sons named Rufus Robert Watson (born in 1970) and Duncan James Watson (born in 1972). Watson has been open about his son Rufus, who lives with schizophrenia, and he has actively sought to advance our comprehension and treatment of mental illness by exploring the genetic contributions to these conditions.

Career And Research:

Delburck, Luria And Phage Group:

He was attracted to molecular biology by the work of Salvador Luria. Luria received Nobel Prize for her work in physiology or medicine in 1969. Watson Started his research on bacteriophages, the virus that infects bacteria. James and Max Delburck were the leaders of the phage group. In 1948, Watson started his Ph.D. research in a laboratory at Indiana University. Watson became a working scientist at the Phage Group. In 1949, Watson took a course with Felix Haurowitz that included the conventional view of that time: that genes were protein molecules and could replicate themselves. Watson was aware of the Avery-Macleod-McCarty experiment that suggested that DNA was the genetic material. Watson’s research was based on inactivating bacteriophages using X-rays.

In 1950, Watson went to Copenhagen University to complete his post-doctoral research. He spent most of his time conducting experiments with physiologist Ole Maaloe at Copenhagen University. Watson attended a meeting in Italy with his colleague, and he saw Maurice Wilkins talk about the X-Ray diffraction data of DNA. Watson wanted to learn to perform X-Ray diffraction experiments, and John Kendrew arranged post-doctoral research for him in England. James visited the Stazione Zoologica ‘Anton Dohrn’ in Naples.

Contribution To DNA Double Helix:

In 1953, Watson and Francis Crick presented the model of DNA. Watson and Crick submitted a paper titled ‘Molecular Structure Of Nucleic Acid: A Structure Of Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid’ in the scientific journal Nature. The article was published on 25 April 1953.

The scientist working at Oxford University’s Chemistry Department, including Sydney Brenner, Dorothy Hodgkin, Jack Dunitz, Leslie Orgel, and Beryl M. Oughton, were the first people in April 1953 to see the structure of DNA’s model constructed by Watson and Cricks. All the scientists were impressed by the new model of DNA.

Watson presented an article on the double-helical structure of DNA at the 18th Cold Spring Harbor Symposium on Viruses in early June 1953, six weeks following the publication of the Watson and Crick paper in Nature. Many at the meeting still needed to hear of the discovery. The 1953 Cold Spring Harbor Symposium provides the first opportunity for many to the model of the DNA double helix.

In 1962 Watson, Maurice Wilkins, and Francis Crick were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their research on the structure of DNA. The publication of DNA double helical structure was a turning point in science.

Also Read: Oliver Sacks Biography, Gay Partner, Cause of Death

Harvard University:

In 1956, James accepted a position in the Biology department at Harvard University. His work at Harvard focused on single-stranded RNA and its role in transferring genetic information. Watson remained a Harvard faculty member until 1976 and was also the director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 1968.

Publishing The Double Helix:

In 1968, James Watson wrote The Double Helix, which ranked in the 100 Best Nonfiction Books list. The book includes the story of the discovery of the structure of DNA, the personalities, conflicts, and the controversy surrounding their work. It has many of his personal emotional impressions at the time. Watson’s book was originally to be published by the Harvard University Press.

Human Genome Project:

In 1990, He was appointed at the National Institutes of Healthas the Head Of the Human Genome Project. He left the Human Genome Project after conflicts with the NIH director Bernadine Healy. The project was published in 2003. In 2007, He became the second scientis to publish his fully sequenced genome online.

Notable Former Students:

Many of Watson’s former doctoral students subsequently became notable in their own fields including, Bob Horvitz, Peter B Moore, Mario Capecchi, Joan Steitz. Beside PhD students, he also supervised interns and post-doctoral students, including Phillip Allen Sharp, Ewan Birney, Ronald W. Davis, Richard J. Roberts, and John Tooze.

As An Author:

During the 1960s, he became one of the most celebrated science writers. He published his textbook Molecular Biology of the Gene in 1965 and his best-selling autobiographical book The Double Helix in 1968. Watson became the undisputed leading voice in the whole of American science. He illustrates the scientific creativity in 20th century science, giving rise to molecular biology and its two applied offsets; biotechnology and the Human Genome Project.

James Watson Accomplishments:

James Watson is widely recognized for his notable accomplishments in molecular biology. Some of his key achievements include:

Discovery of DNA Structure:

Alongside Francis Crick, James Watson is best known for the co-discovery of the structure of DNA. In 1953, they proposed the double helix model, which elucidated the structure of DNA as a twisted ladder-like molecule with complementary base pairs.

james d watson team

Contribution to the Central Dogma: 

Watson and Crick proposed the central dogma of molecular biology, which describes the transfer of genetic information from DNA to RNA to protein. This concept laid the foundation for understanding how genetic information is stored and transferred in living organisms.

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine:

In 1962, James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of the structure of DNA.

Human Genome Project:

Watson played a significant role in advocating for and leading the Human Genome Project, an international research endeavor aimed at sequencing and mapping the entire human genome. This project provided invaluable insights into the genetic basis of human health and disease.

Molecular Biology Research and Leadership:

Throughout his career, Watson conducted extensive research in molecular biology, focusing on topics such as the genetic code, RNA, and cancer genetics. He also held leadership positions at renowned research institutions, including the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

James Watson Net Worth:

James Watson, an American geneticist, biologist, and scientist, is highly recognised for his significant contributions to the study of the DNA molecule’s double helix structure. While he has achieved notable success in his field, an assessment of his net worth is about $20 billion. Watson completed his degrees at the University of Chicago in 1947 and obtained a Ph.D. from Indiana University in 1950.

Interesting Facts About James Watson:

  • James Watson, along with Francis Crick, is known for their groundbreaking discovery of the structure of DNA. Their model of the double helix revolutionized our understanding of genetics.
  • Watson was just 25 years old when he and Crick proposed the double helix structure of DNA in 1953. Their work was based on Rosalind Franklin’s X-ray diffraction images of DNA.
  • In 1962, Watson, Crick, and Maurice Wilkins were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their contributions to understanding DNA structure.
  • Watson wrote a memoir titled “The Double Helix,” published in 1968, in which he provided a personal account of the events leading up to the discovery of the DNA structure. 
  • Watson played a crucial role in advocating for and leading the Human Genome Project, a global effort to find and sequence the entire human genome. The project was completed in 2003 and provided crucial insights into genetics and human health.
  • Watson is known for his ability to communicate complex scientific concepts to a broader audience.

James Watson Books:

Watson has published numerous scientific papers throughout his career, he has also written several books on various topics, including genetics, molecular biology, and his personal experiences. Here are some notable books authored or co-authored by James D. Watson

  • “The Double Helix”
  • “Molecular Biology of the Gene”
  • The Molecular Biology of the Cell
  • Genes, Girls, and Gamow
  • “DNA: The Secret of Life”

These books offer insights into Watson’s scientific accomplishments, as well as his perspectives on scientific discovery, genetics, and the broader implications of DNA research. It’s worth noting that Watson’s views and statements on race and intelligence have been widely criticized, and his later works may reflect controversial opinions that have sparked considerable debate in the scientific community


  • Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research (1960)
  •  Member of the National Academy of Sciences (1962) 
  • Nobel Prize (1962) 
  • John J. Carty Award (1971) 
  • Foreign Member of the Royal Society (1981)
  •  EMBO Membership (1985) 
  • Copley Medal of The Royal Society (1993)
  •  Lomonosov Gold Medal (1994)
  • Golden Plate Award of The American Academy of Achievement (1986)
  • Irish American Hall Of Fame (2011)
  • National Medal Of Science (1997)
  • Honorary Member Of Royal Irish Academy (2005)
  • Honorary Fellow, The Hastings Center, an independent bioethics research institution (
  • Honorary Knight Commander of The Order Of British Empire (2002)
  • Liberty Medal (2000)
  • Presidential Medal Of Freedom (1977)
  • Eli Lilly Award In Biological Chemistry (1960)


  • When was James Watson born?

James Watson was born on April 6, 1928.

  • What is James Watson famous for?

James Watson is primarily famous for his co-discovery, alongside Francis Crick, of the structure of DNA. 

  • What did James Watson discover?

James Watson, along with Francis Crick, is famous for the co-discovery of the structure of DNA.

  • Is James D Watson still alive in 2023?

Yes, James D Watson is still alive.

  • Where did James Watson work?
  • After completing his Ph.D. at Indiana University, Watson joined the Medical Research Council (MRC) Unit in Cambridge, England, in 1951. During his time at the MRC Unit, he began collaborating with Francis Crick and made the groundbreaking discovery of the structure of DNA. 
  • Watson became a faculty member at Harvard University in 1955, where he continued his work in molecular biology.
  • Watson was prominent at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a renowned research institution dedicated to genetics and molecular biology.
  • Where did James Watson live?

James Watson lives in Huntington.

  • What did James Watson do to discover DNA?

Watson and Crick relied on the X-ray crystallography images of DNA taken by Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins. Franklin’s X-ray diffraction work provided valuable data about the structure of DNA fibers. Based on the available data, Watson and Crick constructed DNA models using physical and mathematical calculations. They explored different possible configurations and tested their compatibility with the experimental data. Through their model building, Watson and Crick deduced that DNA is composed of two strands twisted around each other in a helical shape. Through their model building, Watson and Crick deduced that DNA is composed of two strands twisted around each other in a helical shape. 

  • What are three interesting facts about James Watson?
  • James Watson made the groundbreaking discovery of the structure of DNA at the remarkably young age of 25
  • Watson proposed the double helix model 1953, which revolutionized our understanding of genetics and molecular biology.
  • Outside of his scientific pursuits, James Watson is known for his avid interest in birdwatching. He is an enthusiastic birdwatcher and has participated in various birding expeditions worldwide. 
  • What is a famous quote from James Watson?

“It’s necessary to be slightly underemployed if you are to do something significant.”

  • What did Watson win a Nobel Prize for?

James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962  for their discovery of DNA.

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