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The Oswald T. Avery Collection

Letter from Joshua Lederberg to Boris Ephrussi pdf (98,670 Bytes) transcript of pdf
Letter from Joshua Lederberg to Boris Ephrussi
In this follow-up letter, Lederberg thanked Ephrussi for searching for a manuscript written by Harriett Ephrussi-Taylor, Ephrussi's late wife. With this letter, Lederberg enclosed various excerpts from the manuscript with the hope that it would aid Ephrussi in any further search for the document. Ephrussi-Taylor worked in Avery's lab for several years during the mid-1940s before moving to France shortly after her marriage to Ephrussi. Ephrussi-Taylor died in 1968 from cancer. On the bottom of the letter, Lederberg added a handwritten note: "Boris--I am sure this king of digging into the past must carry some pain, but I hope this is also ameliorated by the respect and regard for Harriett which it substantiates. You know I have only the warmest feelings for you."
Item is a photocopy.
Number of Image Pages:
1 (98,670 Bytes)
1972-10-05 (October 5, 1972)
Lederberg, Joshua
Ephrussi, Boris
Reproduced with permission of Joshua Lederberg.
Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Transformation, Genetic
History of Medicine
Exhibit Category:
After the Discovery: The Transforming Principle's Reception by the Scientific Community
Metadata Record Letter from Joshua Lederberg to Boris Ephrussi (September 1972) pdf (68,347 Bytes) transcript of pdf
Metadata Record Letter from Boris Ephrussi to Joshua Lederberg (September 25, 1972) pdf (49,771 Bytes) transcript of pdf
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
October 5, 1972
Dear Boris,
I was very glad to get your note of September 25th. I think that if you saw only my letter to Nature and not the Wyatt paper to which it was addressed, you might think that I was insufficiently critical about the attitudes of some of the leading geneticists about Avery in 1944. There is no question that at that time very few people appreciated the seminal significance of Avery's findings, although it was discussed very widely and surely no one thought that it was unimportant. What is difficult to remember in hindsight is how unsure we had to be at that time about a specific interpretation of those findings, and Avery's own refusal to commit himself to any speculations certainly contributed to the aura of bafflement. It really was very clear-sighted of Harriett to jump from the traditions of the Zoology Department and to see how exciting an opportunity it would be to work with him. The main point that Wyatt made, with which I have to disagree, is that Avery's work was literally "overlooked", in the sense that the geneticists were not even aware of it. Harriett herself undoubtedly played an important role in preventing such an eventuality, but we should also recall that Dobzhansky spent considerable space on the transformation phenomenon, and referred to it in the context of Avery's laboratory, in his book on "The Origin of Species". I have a very firm recollection, shared by many others, that this reference was very widely discussed among geneticists in the early 40's. The main point, in my mind, is that many geneticists were simply unprepared to examine any observations on bacteria as relevant to the main stream of the science. And, of course, by and large the microbiologists had exactly converse prejudices. I am enclosing the fragments that Harriett did send me of the paper that I asked you about in hopes that this might remind you of what I was looking for. It would be unfortunate if the rest of that draft has disappeared, but perhaps Rollin or someone else, in fact, has it, and I will make a parallel inquiry.
I am glad to know that it will be worth trying to contact you in Paris next summer, and I will write you further about that when our own possible plans are in clearer sight.
Sincerely yours,
Joshua Lederberg
Professor of Genetics
[HANDWRITTEN NOTE:] Boris - I am sure this kind of digging into the past must carry some pain, but I hope this is also ameliorated by the respect and regard for Harriet which it substantiates. You know I have only the warmest feelings for you. Josh.
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