April 26, 1953 To the editors of Nature:
While it is not in my nature to sow discord, I find it difficult to remain silent at this juncture. The treatise by Messrs. Watson and Crick ("A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid," Watson J.D. and Crick F.H.C., Nature, vol. 171 pp 737-738, April 25, 1953), which proposes a new theory on the structure of DNA, is a misguided attempt to solve the key riddle of genetics. Though undoubtedly well-intentioned, the gentlemen have taken a step backwards. I believe it to be my solemn duty to demonstrate where they have failed, and how.
Let us begin at the very beginning. "We wish to suggest a structure for the salt of deoxyribose nucleic acid," the authors intone with their first sentence. A weak overture, sirs. You sound like a student at the back of the class, feebly holding a hand aloft because they think they might know the answer, while praying the teacher will call upon someone else. Have you found a structure or haven't you? I could "suggest" something for you as well, featuring the sun, and the coordinates from which it does not shine.
The authors then set the groundwork for their theory by assailing Fraser's model for a three-chain DNA structure, with phosphates linked by hydrogen bonds. Their summation: "This structure as described is rather ill-defined, and for this reason we shall not comment on it." Gentlemen, if your intent is to take passive-aggressive potshots at the superior work of your competitors, save it for the New England Journal of Medicine. While you're at it, why not just leave Fraser a hastily-scrawled note affixed to the bathroom mirror?
It is here that the article begins to groan under the weight of its errors. "We have made the usual chemical assumptions, namely, that each chain consists of phosphate diester groups joining β-D-deoxyribofuranose residues with 3',5' linkages," our intrepid authors state. This would be fine, had it not been repeatedly shown in field trials that β-D-deoxyribofuranose residues cannot be joined with 3',5' linkages. One can forgive them the mistake, but if that is the basis of their entire model, I hesitate to think where this affair is heading. Imagine a beautiful herd of buffalo stampeding towards a cliff, over ground littered with Nazi landmines. This is worse.
Furthermore, they claim that "the two chains (but not their bases) are related by a dyad perpendicular to the fibre axis. Both chains follow right-handed helices, but owing to the dyad the sequences of the atoms in the two chains run in opposite directions" Okay first of all, don't talk down to us. We are not the insipid housewives you seem to think we are. Second of all, both chains follow right-handed helices? For the dyad to run perpendicular on that axis, the intra-helical bonds would force the chains to twist left. How else would the chains run in opposite directions? Even my nephew understands that, and do you know what my nephew is doing right now, as I type this? Sitting two feet in front of the television in the next room, watching "Howdy Doody" while excavating his nose. Hey look, he found something! Whoops, under the coffee table it goes.
In this increasingly fantastical model, the helical chains "are joined together in pairs, a single base from one chain being hydrogen-bonded to a single base from the other chain, so that the two lay side by side with identical z-coordinates." Deoxyribose protein molecules bonded by hydrogen would cause a degenerative spiral of polar opposition, initiating a fission reaction within the hydrogen that technically finishes before it starts. Congratulations, gentlemen, you've just ripped open the continuum of space-time and filled it with atomic fire. The children of the world thank you.
Finally, Watson and Crick manage to arrive at the conclusion that their slipshod house of cards points directly to the secret of genetic reproduction. "It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material." Well thank the nine hells it has not escaped your notice. What else has not escaped your notice? That six times seven equals a pound of sugar? That a dog sniffing his own fart means rain tomorrow? Here's something that has not escaped my notice: You two couldn't science your way out of a wet grocery bag.
I have read their article from beginning to end no fewer than four times, foolishly hoping that at some point the pieces would fit together. With each reading, the words sound more and more like the cackles of a circus clown, heard through a fog of morphine. To lend these ramblings credence by printing them in such a venerable journal is a disservice to society.
Last year, my daughter informed her mother and me that she wanted a horse. She cried every night until we got her one, which is stabled three towns away at a cost that reads like a line item in the Defense Department's budget. This afternoon I went to the stables with a steel bucket, lifted that damn horse's tail, and held the bucket aloft until such time as it was full to the brim. Perhaps I shall submit this bucket of offal to Nature, because that is apparently what they are publishing these days.
See you in the funny pages, assholes.
Edgar H. Masterson, Ph.D.