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The Oswald T. Avery Collection

Interview with Joshua Lederberg [Oswald Avery and the dawn of molecular genetics: a revolution in science] transcript of audio
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Running Time:
2 minutes, 17 seconds
1996-03-22 (March 22, 1996)
Lederberg, Joshua
Interviewer: Hyde, Barbara
Joshua Lederberg interview. VHS Tape 1. Beta SP timecodes 01:20:30:00 - 01:23:18:00
Reproduced with permission of the American Society for Microbiology.
Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
History of Medicine
Exhibit Category:
After the Discovery: The Transforming Principle's Reception by the Scientific Community
Unique Identifier:
Document Type:
Video recordings
Physical Condition:
JOSHUA LEDERBERG: Oh, there was no doubt we were living through a revolution. I certainly experienced it as such, internalized in that way. When the paper by Avery, McLeod and McCarty came along, I didn't use the phraseology but my exclamations were equivalent, saying "This is the dawn of molecular genetics!" For the first time we could have a biological assay for the genetic activity of an external molecule. So that publication next to Francis Ryan was the molding effects on my career.
It was talked about quite extensively around the department at Columbia. It turns out we had a couple of people who were important leaders on: Alfred Mirsky who has been remarked on as having been an inappropriate critic of Avery, MacLeod and McCarty: I don't think it was inappropriate but he was certainly a severe critic who was also the greatest herald of the story so we would hear about what was going on at the Rockefeller Institute on the other side of town as if we had been at the same institution. But also Harriet Taylor, who was a graduate student working with L. C. Dunn had become interested in it as well and she, in fact, went to do post-doctoral work in Avery's laboratory shortly after that time.
So we had very close information linkages to the research that was going on there. We were very well informed about it, we reacted to it, there was a lot of critical dialectic but it was not something that could be ignored. It was the most exciting thing that had happened in many many decades and was precisely because it was so important -- that is, the identification of DNA as genetic material, that I emphasized with the view that it should be subjected to the most critical examination. It was too important an issue to just accept casually. So as long as the debate was alive, that was the way the scientific method operates.
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