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The Oswald T. Avery Collection

Letter from Joshua Lederberg to Arnold W. Ravin pdf (125,132 Bytes) transcript of pdf
Letter from Joshua Lederberg to Arnold W. Ravin
In this letter, Lederberg thanked Ravin for the materials he supplied in his previous letter and inquired into Ravin's interest to further explore the "Griffith-Avery story."
Item is a photocopy.
Number of Image Pages:
2 (125,132 Bytes)
1972-10-06 (October 6, 1972)
Lederberg, Joshua
Ravin, Arnold W.
This item is in the public domain. It may be used without permission.
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 Harriett Ephrussi-Taylor: April 10, 1918 - March 30, 1968 (1968) pdf (137,641 Bytes) ocr (4,613 Bytes)
Metadata Record Letter from Joshua Lederberg to Arnold W. Ravin (September 30, 1972) pdf (38,249 Bytes) transcript of pdf
Metadata Record Letter from Arnold W. Ravin to Joshua Lederberg (October 2, 1972) pdf (128,393 Bytes) transcript of pdf
Metadata Record [Excerpt from] "Titres et Travaux Scientifiques de Harriett Ephrussi-Taylor" [n.d.] pdf (149,964 Bytes) ocr (3,812 Bytes)
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 6, 1972
Dear Arnold,
Thank you for your very interesting and useful material vis-a-vis Harriett. I think the documents that you sent do pin down several of my questions quite clearly. I would guess that if Harriett gave a seminar in late 1942 that it was in the context of the discussion in Doby's book rather than other direct contact with Avery, although it would be interesting to pursue this. Quite possibly she was already very much sensitized to the problems of pneumococcus transformation even before that 1944 publication.
My review in the American Scientist, reference 13, summarizes the possible diverse interpretations of the phenomenon. It is interesting that in his letter to his brother Avery presents a much clearer picture of the genetic significance of transformation than anything Doby wrote in his book. I have to agree that Dunn was her supervisor; she also acknowledges him and not Hecht in her publication on yeast. I will have to write to Dunn to see if he can recall how in the world he came to agree to sponsor a thesis on growth in yeast, which seems a rather improbable topic from almost any criterion that one would use today.
I would be very much interested to know what you meant by your plans for a further exploration of the Griffith-Avery story. I have in mind to write a somewhat more detailed note than has appeared so far about the background of the investigation of bacterial recombination, and I would be delighted to be able to refer to a reliable account of the Avery stuff, particularly one that I agreed with. My letter to Nature in reply to Wyatt is probably going to seem a little bit too defensive about how geneticists took that story, and of course I guess one has to specify which geneticists! What I really do bark at is the idea that he seems to be promoting that Avery's work was simply not known about, which is, of course, preposterous. The idea that bacteria were suitable objects for genetic investigation is another story, and I guess we all had our knocks about that.
I have no doubt at all that it was Dunn and Dobzhansky who pooh-poohed Harriett's interest in pneumococcus. It was common knowledge that Francis Ryan had his knocks on rather similar questions; and what I know better now than then was how precarious Francis must have thought his career might be in the face of these sorts of obtuseness about microorganisms and about biochemical approaches to genetics that pervaded some of those seniors.
My own debt to her is quite clear. I would be interested in anything else that you can remember or dig up that might reflect on the influence that Harriett and Francis had upon one another. Can you remember anything of what he might have thought about Avery independently of Harriett, or would his insight into that have been pretty much derivative of hers?
Sincerely yours,
Joshua Lederberg
Professor of Genetics
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