American Treasures of the Library of Congress: Reason

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DNA: An "Amateur" Makes a Real Contribution

Letter to Martynas Ycas, July 2, 1954
George Gamow (1904-1968)
Letter to Martynas Ycas, July 2, 1954
Page 2
Holograph manuscript
Manuscript Division
Gift of George Gamow, 1964 (125.6a,b)

Possible Mathematical Relation Between Deoxyribonucleic Acid and Proteins
George Gamow (1904-1968)
"Possible Mathematical Relation Between Deoxyribonucleic Acid and Proteins,"
Det Kongelige Danske
Videnskabernes Selskab, 1954.
Page 1 - Page 2
Reprint
Manuscript Division (125.7a,b)

In 1954, George Gamow made what has been called "perhaps the last example of amateurism in scientific work on a grand scale." Less than a year after James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the molecular structure of DNA, Gamow, a professional physicist and amateur biologist, proposed the first definite coding scheme for DNA. In this letter to his colleague, Lithuanian-American microbiologist, Martynas Ycas, Gamow discusses this idea in typical Gamow fashion-- couching his contribution with wit and flair.

This Danish reprint of Russian-American physicist George Gamow's 1954 Nature article illustrates his diamond-shaped holes in the double helix of DNA and the coding scheme for protein synthesis that he proposed in 1953. Although the physicist Gamow had made errors in his sequencing suggestion, Francis Crick later stated that Gamow's idea was provocative and led him to consider immediately the all-important coding problem.

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