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Human Nobel Prize Medal for DNA Discovery For Sale: Crick's Family Auctions History

Nobel Prize Medal for DNA Discovery For Sale: Crick's Family Auctions History

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First Posted: Feb 26, 2013 10:42 AM EST
Francis Crick, Nobel Prize winner for figuring out the double-helix structure of DNA.
The Nobel Prize medal honoring the discovery of the structure of DNA is up for auction. This image shows Francis Crick, Nobel Prize winner for figuring out the double-helix structure of DNA. (Photo : AFP)

Ever wanted a Nobel Prize medal? Now is your chance. Sixty years after the discovery of DNA, one of the medals honoring this achievement is up for sale.

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The three men who played crucial roles in deciphering DNA's double helix structure, the twisting ladder that contains paired bases on the "rungs", were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.  First discovered in 1953, this structure was crucial for the following research in DNA and helped revolutionize the way scientists studied medicine.

Yet this finding didn't come easily. In the late 1940s, the scientific community was aware that DNA was most likely the molecule of life, though many were skeptical since DNA was considered to be so simple. While they were aware that DNA contained different amounts of the four bases, adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine, they didn't know exactly what this molecule may look like. In the early 1950s, James Watson and Francis Crick became extremely interested in Linus Pauling's work, a scientist that discovered that many proteins took the shape of an alpha helix, spiraled like a spring coil. Jumping off of this and Rosalind Franklin's work with Maurice Wilkins, Watson and Crick announced that the DNA molecule had a double helix structure. Eventually, Watson, Crick and Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize. Franklin, unfortunately, had died by the time the prize was awarded, and so didn't receive a medal.

Now, though, Francis Crick's family plans to sell his medal. In addition to the medal, they also plan to auction off the accompanying diploma and other items. A portion of the proceeds will benefit research institutions in the United States and United Kingdom.

How much will the medal go for? It's a mystery. There is little precedent for this sale, and Nobel medals have only changed hands publicly in a couple of instances. The one that's currently being sold is struck in 23-carat gold, but its value is increased due to the fact that it represents a crucial accomplishment in biology. That said, the auction house handling the sale has currently valued the medal and diploma at about $500,000. Yet the price for it could soar much higher at auction.

Crick's family hopes that the medal will be displayed publicly after the sale, according to Fox News, though they acknowledge that a public auction holds no guarantee of that happening. The auction itself will occur at Heritage Auctions in New York City on April 10.

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