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Salk Institute honored with historic gift from family of the late Francis Crick

Francis Crick

Francis Crick

Michael Crick, the son of the late Nobel laureate and Salk faculty member, Francis Crick, has generously donated to the Institute half of the proceeds from the sale of a 1953 letter in which the elder Crick describes to his young son his recent discovery of the structure of DNA.

On April 25, 1953, Crick and James Watson published a historic letter in Nature that described the DNA double helix, which concluded with the famous understatement that the structure "suggests a possible copying mechanism for genetic material." Crick, Watson and Maurice Wilkins would later share the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery.

But before Crick told the world about DNA, he wrote a letter to his 12-year-old son Michael, then at boarding school. The letter was signed with paternal affection, "Lots of love, Daddy," but the contents are considered the first complete written description of the structure and mechanism of DNA, including a hand-drawn picture by Crick. Of the picture, he commented to his son, "the model looks much nicer than this."

The letter sold April 10 at Christie's auction house to an anonymous bidder for a record price of close to $6 million. The previous record holder was an Abraham Lincoln letter that sold for $3.4 million in 2008.

"Francis Crick was for many years a deeply beloved member of the Salk faculty, who pushed himself and his colleagues to ask profound scientific questions," said Salk Institute President William R. Brody. "The Salk Institute is enormously grateful for having had the privilege to know and work with Francis, and that Michael has chosen to honor his father's memory in this way."