Thank you for exhuming the reference in Nature 1953 on "bacterial information".
That phrase about no material exchange of substances does have a peculiar ring today, doesn't it! But I think we have
to be careful not to overinterpret it. What I think they may have had in mind would be the modification of a self-sustaining
reaction state in one cell line by stimuli, be they chemical or electrical, that are not necessarily themselves part of a
self-reproducing particle. You may remember that Delbruck had some fun with such discussions, and I am enclosing a few archaic
remarks of my own, although I have to say that the criterion of the number of bits of information which are sustained by the
self-reproducing system is still an effective criterion.
However, the model probably went a little deeper. Harriett Taylor was quite reluctant to talk about transforming substances
rather than transforming principles. Boris I have to say was a little bit upset that I had left out much reference to her
in my note to Nature and I had to tell him that I thought that she really did not believe that material recombination was
playing a role in the pneumococcus transformation. You can get some idea of this from her paper in the Cold Spring Harbor
Symposia, this was reinforced in her personal conversation and correspondence with me. While Boris thinks I am all wrong
about my interpretation of her attitudes about this I certainly do not want to pour any salt into old wounds.
I wonder if you could get Jim Watson to explain what he thought he meant by that note.
Professor of Genetics
[HANDWRITTEN: (1) Remember, e.g. Novick - PNAS 7/57; Delbruck 1949 discussion of Sonneborn and Beale was widely quoted;
I saw Gunther Stent yesterday. He "never intended to imply" that Avery was ignored like Mendel. "Napoleon and
Hitler were both dictators" - doesn't mean they're the same. So he owes as he is misunderstood. J.]