Knighthood for biologist in DNA 'double helix' discovery

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The Independent Online

One of the pioneers of the scientific revolution in genetics, James D Watson, has been awarded a knighthood, 40 years after sharing a Nobel prize for unravelling the three-dimensional structure of the DNA double helix.

Professor Watson, president of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, worked alongside Francis Crick at Cambridge University in the early 1950s when they made the discovery that was to begin a new era in the understanding of biological inheritance.

Watson and Crick, along with Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin from Imperial College in London, worked out how the two molecular strands of DNA interwove around each other as a double helix, a discovery that led to the cracking of the genetic code common to all of life on Earth.

As an American citizen, Professor Watson will not be able to call himself "Sir", a prospect that does not rankle the scientist, who is renowned as an acerbic wit. "I've never wanted to call my friends with knighthoods 'Sir' so I don't want others to call me 'Sir'," he said. "I'm very pleased and honoured."

Professor Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer for England, also receives a knighthood, as does Professor Richard Brook, the former chief executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

A knighthood is also conferred upon Professor Gabriel Horn, a zoologist at Cambridge University, for services to neurobiology and the advancement of scientific research.

Professor Horn led the committee that investigated the causes and origins of BSE, concluding in 2001 that the cattle disease was almost certainly the result of young calves being fed material contaminated with sheep scrapie. Professor Ian Kennedy, of King's College London, is knighted for services to bioethics and to medical law. He led the investigation into the Bristol children's heart surgery scandal.