The DNA story - the Nottingham strand

13 Sep 2010 14:49:21.023

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The work of the man who helped to pave the way to the discovery of the structure of DNA is being remembered in a memorial lecture on Wednesday 15 September.

The event celebrates the life and work of Dr JM (Michael) Creeth, who graduated in chemistry from University College Nottingham (now The University of Nottingham) in 1944. Dr Creeth played a key part in the race to identify the structure of the ‘code of life’ in his Nottingham lab — a little-known chapter in the story that ended with the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA, which earned James Watson and Francis Crick their Nobel Prize.

Dr Creeth died in January this year at the age of 85. The memorial lecture, which takes place at Nottingham’s Park Plaza hotel, is part of the 19th annual Analytical Ultracentrifugation Conference taking place in the city from Sunday 12 to Thursday 16 September.

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Following his degree, Dr Creeth embarked on his PhD in what was then the University’s Department of Chemistry, supervised by DO Jordan and JM Gulland. Using an excellent sample of DNA obtained by fellow student Cedric Threlfall, Dr Creeth eventually came to the important conclusion that the bases of DNA were linked by hydrogen bonds.

Research continued, but by 1947 the research team that Dr Creeth was a part of had begun to disperse. Dr Creeth himself followed his professor to Adelaide University, ending his academic interest in DNA structure.

But the papers on hydrogen bonds were later read by Watson and Crick in Cambridge, giving them an essential clue to the structure of DNA — a discovery that still sits at the heart of modern medical research.

Dr Creeth accepted that the Nottingham team didn’t have the experience in crystallography that proved vital to the final discovery of the structure of DNA, he did admit to having the occasional ‘what if?’ moment.

“Of course I was impressed by what Watson and Crick had done,” he said. “However, I must admit to a lingering thought of ‘why didn’t we think of that?’, although practically speaking there were many reasons why our research couldn’t have taken us to that conclusion.”

Steve Harding, Professor of Physical Biochemistry at The University of Nottingham, and former Research Fellow in Dr Creeth’s laboratory will also be remembering Dr Creeth at the conference dinner held at Sutton Bonington campus on Wednesday evening.

“The University is very proud of Mike’s achievements,” said Professor Harding. “Mike Creeth was a true gentlemen and meticulous towards his science, an approach which was passed down to all those privileged to have been trained by him.”

The JM Creeth Memorial Lecture is being given by Professor Don Winzor of the University of Queensland, on Wednesday 15 September from 4pm to 4.45pm. For more information visit the conference website at

If you wish to attend the lecture or the dinner contact Professor Harding at

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.

The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's "only truly global university", it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy), and was named ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.

Nottingham was designated as a Science City in 2005 in recognition of its rich scientific heritage, industrial base and role as a leading research centre. Nottingham has since embarked on a wide range of business, property, knowledge transfer and educational initiatives in order to build on its growing reputation as an international centre of scientific excellence. The University of Nottingham is a partner in Nottingham: the Science City.

Story credits

More information is available from Professor Steve Harding on +44 (0)115 951 6148,
Tara De Cozar

Tara De Cozar - Internal Communications Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 846 8560 Location: University Park

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