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.
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1972-09-13 (September 13, 1972)
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Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
History of Medicine
After the Discovery: The Transforming Principle's Reception by the Scientific Community
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
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