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Celebrating Maurice Wilkins, "the third man of DNA

DNA50: Celebrating Maurice Wilkins, "the third man of DNA"

New Zealand's top scientists in the DNA area from forensics to evolutionary studies are gathering at Government House on Monday 10 March to celebrate the role of New Zealand-born scientist, Maurice Wilkins, in discovering the structure of the DNA molecule. Professor Wilkins shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with James Watson and Francis Crick for their discovery in 1953. The fiftieth anniversary is being celebrated worldwide.

A portrait of Professor Wilkins (86), who lives in London, will be unveiled by the Governor General, Dame Silvia Cartwright, and New Zealand's "father of DNA", Emeritus Professor George Petersen of Otago University. Professor Petersen was a pioneer in developing techniques for sequencing DNA in the years following the discovery.

The Royal Society is coordinating a year-long programme of celebratory events, culminating in a national tour in October by the author of "The Seven Daughters of Eve", Bryan Sykes, who is Professor of Human Genetics at Oxford's Institute of Molecular Medicine. Professor Sykes' book is based on the deduction that all Europeans are descended from seven women who lived in Europe between about 10,000 and 45,000 years ago. Professor Sykes is The University of Auckland's 2003 Sir Douglas Robb lecturer.

On 15 April, Professor Alan Cooper, a New Zealand scientist who works at the Ancient Biomolecules Centre at Oxford University, will give a special one-off public lecture on his work extracting and analysing DNA from the bones of extinct species such as Neanderthal and moa. The lecture, entitled "Ancient DNA in New Zealand: the real Jurassic Park", will be hosted by Victoria University of Wellington in partnership with the Royal Society.

In June, Dr Neil Hall (Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge) and Dr Owen White (Institute of Genomic Research, Maryland, US), will be visiting New Zealand for the Masterclass! Science on DNA. They will give a series of lectures and take part in seminars with New Zealand scientists working in the same field.

A number of eminent New Zealand scientists will give talks on various DNA themes in the course of the year. These include: Professors David Parry and David Penny of Massey University; Associate Professor Jack Heinemann of Canterbury University; and Dr Jonathan Hickford of Lincoln University. These lectures will be hosted by universities, museums, and branches of the Royal Society. They are all free, open to the public, and aim to interest a wider, general audience.

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