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The Oswald T. Avery Collection

[Rene Dubos's memories of working in Oswald Avery's laboratory] transcript of audio
(sound icon) Quicktime Audio (2,221,680 Bytes)
(sound icon) RealMedia Audio (554,708 Bytes)

Running Time:
4 minutes, 37 seconds
1979-02-02 (February 2, 1979)
Dubos, Rene J.
Rockefeller University
Reproduced with permission of Rockefeller University.
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 Symposium Celebrating the Thirty-Fifth Anniversary of the Publication of 'Studies on the Chemical Nature of the Substance Inducing Transformation of Pneumococcal Types' (February 2, 1979) pdf (3,125,653 Bytes) ocr (53,635 Bytes)
Box Number:
Unique Identifier:
Document Type:
Sound recordings
Oral histories (document genres)
Physical Condition:
Series: Commentary on Avery and His Work, 1944-2005
SubSeries: Audiovisuals
Folder: 35th Anniversary of DNA Publication, 1979
Now in 1928 there occurred in Great Britain, a discovery that was terribly upsetting to all of us, and especially to Dr. Avery. Namely, an officer of the British Ministry of Health, Fred Griffith, demonstrated to his satisfaction, through very crude experiments in mice, that those pneumococcus types, that all of us were so convinced were so stable, were, in reality, could be changed from one to the other in the bodies of mice. These experiments were extremely complicated; technically, they were not terribly convincing, except that Fred Griffith was a person of such technical mastery that one had to take notice of it. Well, we took notice of it. We had countless discussions in the laboratory about the possibility that specific pneumococcus types could change one into the other. But Dr. Avery could not accept it. It went too much against all that he had taught for ten or 15 years, and too much against the achievements of his laboratory. So that, we did not repeat the experiments of Fred Griffith, even though we were fully aware of them. [Avery] left for his summer vacation in 1929, going to Deer Isle in Maine, where he went every summer, and I stayed in the laboratory as I did in those days, and if I mention myself, it is not for my participation in the problem, it is that I was witness in the experiments and participated a bit in the experiments which confirmed Griffith's studies, here, on the 6th floor of the hospital.
I shared the laboratory with a Canadian, a Canadian physician who took care of patients suffering from lobar pneumonia, but who also worked in the laboratory, as we all did in that time. Now, Henry Dawson was a Canadian, he was a British Canadian, very important. And he was absolutely convinced that anything done in England had to be right [laughter]. And I can assure you this, I am not trying to play with this fact. He was intensely [emotional?] about it. Because he was so [emotional?] about it, he decided he would try to repeat the experiments, during the summer, that's the time during which I participated in the experiments with him, and he actually duplicated Griffith's results. If I mention this it is to convey to you that in scientific life there are all sorts of human elements that are not sufficiently recognized. I think it would not be confirmed in our laboratory if Henry Dawson had not been a British Canadian. So he did repeat the experiment, and very soon he did what Griffith had not been able to do. He showed that the transformation of the pneumococcus types could occur not only in the mouse, through very messy, complicated experiments, but could be done in the test tube, and this was an achievement of phenomenal importance, for it meant that from then on it could be studied by all sorts of techniques.
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