Letter from Joshua Lederberg to Michael Heidelberger
In this exchange between Heidelberger and the molecular geneticist Joshua Lederberg, the two agree on the need to elucidate
in detail the chemical composition and three-dimensional structure of pneumococcal polysaccharides. As a molecular geneticist,
Lederberg was interested in the structure of pneumococcal polysaccharides because pneumococcus was the organism in which DNA-mediated
transformation--the transfer of genetic information carried by DNA--was first observed by Oswald Avery and colleagues. Lederberg
believed that detailed knowledge of the structure of pneumococcal polysaccharides would help in understanding the action of
the genes that code for them.
NOTE: Dr. Heidelberger's response is written at the bottom of the letter.
Number of Image Pages:
1 (80,851 Bytes)
1956-11-30 (November 30, 1956)
This item is in the public domain. It may be used without permission.
Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
"If I Have a Few More Years to Work, I'm Going Ahead": An Active Retirement, 1954-1991
Letter from Joshua Lederberg to Michael Heidelberger (November 12, 1956)
Letter from Michael Heidelberger to Joshua Lederberg (November 28, 1956)
Thank you for your answer of the 28th to my inquiry about the pneumococcal polysaccharides. In the interim, I have gotten
to see the Macy Foundation Symposium, and have learned worlds of details from the discussion there. I am also looking forward
to studying the articles you cited in your letter.
There is every reason the geneticists should understand the structures of the compounds they are dealing with is the pneumococcus
transformations. Until now, this has not been looked at as a typical problem in "bicohemical genetics" perhaps because
of the difficulties of defining the synthetic steps. But I am hopeful that the genetic approach can be tied in with other
chemical synthesis. Bernheimer made a start of it some time ago, but without much success. Any chance of you getting into
that? If there were any way of encouraging that, I would.
I'm really surprised after poor Mark Adams' devastating blast at the Macy Foundation Symposium, that you found anything
worth reading in it!
The pneumococci must have some very active and complete transferase in order to build up so many type-specific substances
often from only a very few sugars. It ought to be possible to use such enzymes in vitro, perhaps with a little of the appropriate
DNA to give direction to the process. I would gladly encourage you to go into it--it will take an experienced enzyme chemist,
but with good bacteriological technique, for the bugs are virulent.