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The Oswald T. Avery Collection

Letter from Joshua Lederberg to Cy Levinthal pdf (82,125 Bytes) transcript of pdf
Letter from Joshua Lederberg to Cy Levinthal
In this letter, Lederberg requested that Levinthal locate and send to him items from his student and employee file, as well as any materials at Stanford that related to seminars on Avery that were likely given at the University in the period immediately following Avery's 1944 article with MacLeod and McCarty.
Item is a photocopy.
Number of Image Pages:
1 (82,125 Bytes)
1972-09-13 (September 13, 1972)
Lederberg, Joshua
Levinthal, Cy
This item is in the public domain. It may be used without permission.
Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Recombination, Genetic
History of Medicine
Exhibit Category:
After the Discovery: The Transforming Principle's Reception by the Scientific Community
Box Number: 5
Folder Number: 2
Unique Identifier:
Document Type:
Letters (correspondence)
Physical Condition:
Series: Commentary on Avery and His Work, 1944-2005
SubSeries: Inquiries on Avery
Folder: Lederberg Inquiries, 1962, 1972-1978
Sept. 13 1972
Dear Cy
I don't know whether there is much hope that relevant papers can still be found -- if that much was saved the job of selection might be hopeless; but may I nevertheless ask your help in surveying the files of your department for material that might bear on the history of genetic recombination in bacteria.
This was provoked by the piece by Wyatt in Nature, which has already started to consolidate some myths; and I am chagrinned by having only a few fragments to back up my sometimes hazy recollections. I have the lab notebooks, but they convey very little of the intellectual atmosphere that motivated various experiments.
Some of the general issues are outlined on the attached. In particular, department files may have some details like dates of seminars concerning Avery, DNA etc. esp. in 1945 correspondence or file data on me as a student or an employee 1943-45
I think that Franz Schrader was then chairman; other figures would have been Ryan (of course), Pollitzer, Dobzhansky, Barth. Harriett Taylor (Ephrussi) must have played a central role in communicating between Rockefeller and Columbia, but I think she did not finish her Ph.D. (on the kinetics of yeast growth) until May or June 1945; nevertheless I think she may have been already deeply interested in transformation even by then. My experiments with Francis (on "transforming" Neurospora) began in June, and in July I had outlined some protocols for bacterial sex.
For your own interest I will enclose copies of a few archival items. Anything you can lead me to would be received with gratitude and interest.
P.S. Wyatt does have a point-- the skepticism with which "premature" molecular biologists were greeted in a Zoology Dept. Francis used to joke that Neurospora could grow (4 mm/hr.) faster than some animals could run, and that only this maintained his reputation in the dept. But I recall anything but lack of awareness about Avery. I felt the issue was more, what do bacteria and their God-knows-what genetic systems have to do with red organisms?, I intend to be writing in some more detail about this.
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