Despite its tiny size, Cambridge (UK) is full of science travel destinations. One of my personal favourites is The Eagle. This pub is the location where, in 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick first announced the helical structure of DNA. Their lab was right across the street, and when they solved the puzzle (after perusing Rosalind Franklin’s famous image) they went to the pub to tell everyone. Francis Crick announced that they’d “discovered the secret of life”.
Two months later, they published the work in Nature, but the news was first announced right in this pub. Now, 50 years later, the helical structure of DNA has become iconic. You see it anywhere from scifi movies to biotech company logos.
Cambridge is particularly proud of its helix, and has even placed a statue of a DNA helix along a cycle path just outside of Addenbrookes hospital. If you’re on the right side of the train traveling from London to Cambridge, you can see it if you know where to look.
That helix structure marks the start of the BRCA2 cycle path: the cycle path along the train track is painted in stripes of four colours, according to the genetic sequence of BRCA2 – the gene which, when mutated, causes significantly increased risk of breast cancer. I wrote more about the cycle path here.
In a town that can’t get enough of DNA, it’s tempting to go along with the biochemical geekery, and so after the 2011 SciBarCamb unconference a few of us posed in front of The Eagle pub with a model of two basepairs of DNA made out of balloons. Just another day celebrating DNA in Cambridge.
(Balloon DNA photo by Jim Caryl. Other photos by me.)
And don’t forget to check out our Have Science Will Travel map:
3 thoughts on “The Eagle Pub and the BRCA2 cycle path”
on the cycling/running/whatever logging social network Strava, the cycling “Segment” along the genome path (or at least, the section north of Granhams Road) is named “BRCA2 polymerase” in the southbound direction and, with true Cambridge-geekiness, “BRCA2 reverse transcriptase” in the northbound direction.
Actually, Watson & Crick ‘winged into the Eagle’ (quote from ‘The Double Helix’ by Watson) after they (or, more accurately Watson) had elucidated the base stacking puzzle. The double helical structure had been parsed months earlier. They had ordered metal models of the purines & pyrimidines from the MRC machine shop, but these would take weeks to make. Watson had cut out of cardboard the shapes of each of the four bases (each of which has a unique structure). He was on the phone on a Saturday morning, when out of the corner of his eye, he perceived that the combined shape of the adenine: thymine dyad was IDENTICAL to that of guanine:cytosine. In a hundredth of a second he got it:
“That morning, Watson & Crick knew, although still in mind only the entire structure: it had emerged from the shadow of billions of years, absolute and simple, and was seen and understood for the 1st time.” The Eighth Day of Creation, Horace Freeland Judson, 1979
The town of Northampton is rightly proud that Francis Crick was born and educated there, and commissioned a sculpture to commemorate his life and work. Unfortunately the local council and the artist didn’t check with anyone (maybe at the University….?) and got the structure of the double helix wrong – the two strands twine in opposite directions rather than in the same direction. I suppose you could call it artistic license……