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The Oswald T. Avery Collection

Letter from Joshua Lederberg to Martin R. Pollock pdf (85,716 Bytes) transcript of pdf
Letter from Joshua Lederberg to Martin R. Pollock
Item is a photocopy.
Number of Image Pages:
1 (85,716 Bytes)
1973-08-20 (August 20, 1973)
Lederberg, Joshua
Pollock, Martin R.
This item is in the public domain. It may be used without permission.
Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Transformation, Genetic
Exhibit Category:
After the Discovery: The Transforming Principle's Reception by the Scientific Community
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
August 20, 1973
Dear Martin,
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.
Sincerely yours,
Joshua Lederberg
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.]
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