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Buyer plans to return Nobel medal to James Watson

A spokesman for Nobel laureate James Watson said the buyer of his Nobel medal offered before the sale to give him money.

By Frances Burns
Buyer plans to return Nobel medal to James Watson
Molecular biologist James D. Watson, one of the co-discoverers of the structure of DNA, photographed in 2009. A Russian billionaire announced Tuesday he bought Watson's Nobel medal at auction in order to return it to the scientist. File Photo by David Silpa/UPI | License Photo

NEW YORK, Dec. 9 (UPI) -- James Watson, the only living Nobel laureate to sell his medal, is getting it back, the man who bought it at auction said Tuesday.

Alisher Usmanov, a billionaire described as the richest man in Russia, said he bought the medal to return it to Watson. An anonymous telephone bidder agreed to pay $4.1 million, increased to $4.76 million by Christie's premium, at an auction in New York on Thursday.

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Watson said before the auction that he planned to donate much of the proceeds to the educational institutions that nurtured him. The list included Cambridge University, where he and Francis Crick worked out the structure of the DNA molecule at the Cavendish Laboratory.

"In my opinion, a situation in which an outstanding scientist has to sell a medal recognizing his achievements is unacceptable," Usmanov said in a statement released through his London public relations firm. "James Watson is one of the greatest biologists in the history of mankind, and his award for the discovery of DNA structure must belong to him."

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Watson, Crick and Maurice Wilkinson of Kings College London, who made critical contributions to DNA research, were honored in 1962.

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David Kass, a Watson spokesman, said Usmanov offered before the sale to give Watson the money to make his donations. But he said Watson was curious about what would happen at the auction, where the medal ended up fetching a record price.

Usmanov did not mention the allegations of racism that have followed Watson for several years. He was forced out of the administration of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, where he had worked for years, although he was given the title of chancellor emeritus.

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Watson's troubles began with an interview in which he suggested that Africans are less intelligent because of their genetic heritage. He later apologized and said he had made a statement with no scientific support.

In an interview with the Financial Times before the auction, Watson said he hoped the sale would allow him to "re-enter public life."

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