An X-ray camera from early DNA studies

Contributed by U of Leeds HSTM Museum Project

This is one of the cameras used by William Astbury and Florence Bell in their pioneering studes of DNA at Leeds.

The textile industry in Leeds supported Astbury's early work in molecular biology (a name he coined).Knowledge of the double helical structure of DNA is the basis of modern molecular biology and the range of applications -- scientific, medical and forensic -- that have grown up around it. The discovery of the DNA double helix was made in 1953 by James Watson and Francis Crick. But they were dependent on the work of X-ray crystallographers, skilled in the taking and interpretation of patterns created when X-rays diffract though biological fibres (proteins, nucleic acids etc.) in crystalline form. William Astbury, who coined the phrase "molecular biology", pioneered X-ray studies of this kind at the University of Leeds throughout the 1930s, 40s and 50s. The camera featured here was used in the 30s to take the first X-ray photographs of DNA, in a collaboration between Astbury and his student Florence Bell.

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