DNA pioneer James Watson to sell Nobel medal; could fetch as much as $4.5m

Nobel prize winner James Watson, seen in this 1996 file picture, is to auction off the gold medal he won. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Nobel prize winner James Watson, seen in this 1996 file picture, is to auction off the gold medal he won. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

Nobel prize winner James Watson, who was lauded for his discovery of the structure of DNA, is to auction off the gold medal he won.

It will be the first time a Nobel Prize has been sold by a living recipient.

Christie's auction house has said the gold medal could fetch between US$2.5m and US$3.5m (S$3.24m - S$4.5m), BBC reported.

The coveted gold medal is expected to go under the hammer in a sale at Christie's in New York on Dec 4, CNN said.

The auction also includes papers belonging to Professor Watson, such as handwritten notes for his acceptance speech. Christie's estimates these at between US$300,000 and US$400,000.

Prof Watson, 85, said part of the proceeds would go to projects at the universities and scientific research institutions he has worked at throughout his career.

"I look forward to making further philanthropic gifts to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the University of Chicago, and Clare College Cambridge," he said in a statement.

He added that the auction would mean he could "continue to do my part in keeping the academic world an environment where great ideas and decency prevail," according to CNN.

Prof Watson was awarded the Nobel prize for work in the field of physiology or medicine alongside fellow scientists Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins in 1962.

In 1953, Prof Watson and Prof Crick came to the conclusion that DNA was formed by two twisted strands of molecules, like the rungs of a ladder, holding the iconic double helix structure together, CNN reported.

The discovery, which explained how DNA stores information and how it is replicated, changed biology forever and revolutionised medicine.

"All we could say when we got it: It's so beautiful!" Watson said in 2013.

"DNA was my only gold rush,'' CNN quoted the scientist as saying.

Prof Crick's Nobel medal sold for US$2.2m last year. He died in 2004.

His "Secret of Life" letter to his son, in which he explained the structure of DNA weeks before the discovery was officially announced in the April 1953 edition of the journal Nature, was sold for US$6.06 million - a world record price.

That is more than three times its pre-sale estimate, making it the most expensive letter ever sold at auction, CNN reported.