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DNA pioneer James Watson sells Nobel Prize for $4.8M

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Posted at 2:50 PM, Dec 01, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-04 18:01:21-05

The Nobel Prize is so valuable, that during World War II scientist George de Hevesy melted down the medals of two colleagues and suspended the gold in acid – all to hide them from the Nazis.

The medals were re-struck and returned after the war.

Now, for the first time, a living recipient of a Nobel Prize has sold it. James Watson, 86, who discovered the structure of DNA along with Francis Crick, sold his 1962 Nobel Prize for $4.76 million ($4.1 million after fees) Thursday at a New York City auction.

That's well above the original estimate of $2.5 to $3.5 million. The winner bid anonymously by phone. 

Watson said in a statement that he wants to give some of the money to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the University of Chicago and Clare College Cambridge.

He plans to hold on to a brass replica of the medal to keep among other trophies.

In addition to discovering the DNA double helix, Watson was a leader in the Human Genome Project that unveiled the human genetic code.

However, Watson is a contentious figure. He was suspended from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 2007 after making public comments that were viewed as racist. He later resigned his position as chancellor of the prestigious Long Island lab.

The Washington Post reports that Watson's subsequent isolation may have strained his finances.

Find out more about the controversy surrounding Watson in this Newsy video:

Gavin Stern is a national digital producer for the Scripps National Desk. Follow him on twitter at @GavinStern or email him at gavin.stern@scripps.com.