A world in one dimension: Linus Pauling, Francis Crick and the central dogma of molecular biology

Hist Philos Life Sci. 2006;28(4):491-512.


In 1957, Francis Crick outlined a startling vision of life in which the great diversity of forms and shapes of macromolecules was encoded in the one-dimensional sequence of nucleic acids. This paper situates Crick's new vision in the debates of the 1950s about protein synthesis and gene action. After exploring the reception of Crick's ideas, it shows how they differed radically from a different model of protein synthesis which enjoyed wide currency in that decade. In this alternative model, advocated by Linus Pauling and other luminaries, three-dimensional templates directed the folding of proteins. Even though it was always considered somewhat speculative, this theory was supported by a number of empirical results originating in different experimental systems. It was eventually replaced by a model in which the forms and shapes of macromolecules resulted solely from their amino acid sequence, dramatically simplifying the problem of protein synthesis which Crick was attempting to solve in 1957.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Dissent and Disputes*
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Molecular Biology / history*
  • Protein Biosynthesis*

Personal name as subject

  • Linus Pauling
  • Francis Crick