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The Marshall W. Nirenberg Papers

Letter from Arthur J. Walker to Francis Crick, Leslie Barnett, Sydney Brenner, and R. J. Watts-Tobin pdf (170,888 Bytes) transcript of pdf
Letter from Arthur J. Walker to Francis Crick, Leslie Barnett, Sydney Brenner, and R. J. Watts-Tobin
In this letter to the Medical Research Council Unit for Molecular Biology at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University, a layman offers views on the social implications of biochemical genetic research.
Number of Image Pages:
2 (170,888 Bytes)
1962-02-01 (February 1, 1962)
Walker, Arthur J.
Crick, Francis
Barnett, Leslie
Brenner, Sydney
Watts-Tobin, R. J.
Courtesy of Marshall W. Nirenberg.
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Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Genetic Engineering
Exhibit Category:
Public Reactions to the Genetic Code, 1961-1968
Metadata Record Letter from Francis Crick to Arthur J. Walker (February 2, 1962) pdf (44,940 Bytes) transcript of pdf
Metadata Record Letter from Arthur J. Walker to Marshall W. Nirenberg and J. Heinrich Matthaei (May 3, 1962) pdf (53,763 Bytes) ocr (1,211 Bytes)
Box Number: 4
Folder Number: 31
Unique Identifier:
Accession Number:
Document Type:
Letters (correspondence)
Physical Condition:
Series: Series II: Correspondence, 1953-1993
Folder: General, 1953-1977
1 February, 1962
Doctors: F. H. C. Crick
L. Barnett
S. Brenner
R. J. Watts-Tobin
The Medical Research Council's Unit for Molecular Biology -- Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge University
Dear Doctors:
May I submit a few comments, with all due respect from a layman, in reference to your work on biochemical genetics that has been given recent publicity. Since reading some two years ago of the 1959 Nobel Prize award to Doctors Ochoa and Kornberg in the United States for their achievements in this field, it has seemed to me that such research has far greater potential and import toward human benefit and betterment than anything else that is now being attempted or being done.
Many are the possibilities, most of which have no doubt occurred to you. First, perhaps, a better knowledge of real fundamentals underlying human nature. Some control, even, of such human characteristics that are obviously at the root of so much distress in this world -- of war , poverty, family dissension, et al.. From this might follow two main concepts of approach pertinent to the present need:
1. A Means Available to Man. To find out if there is some way through effect of chemical, radiation, or other means present on earth, whereby humans could overcome certain traits of character. That is not to alter the many variations of aptitude and type essential to an interesting and balanced society, but rather to discover a way to create in all people such a spirit of motivation as would remedy the harm that humankind does unto itself.
In the light of past genetic knowledge wherein microscopic cell structure and related traits appear unalterably established by predecessors, this does not seem possible. However an urgent need exists to find if such a conclusion is entirely correct. The well-known threat of complete catastrophe now posed by knowledge of nuclear armaments makes immediate and intensive exploration of every possible means to eliminate this threat an imperative necessity. Something, perhaps, that would so permanently alter humans that they would first feel better - a transcendence that most all would want - and then that humans would act better.
2. A Knowledge of Externals to Man. To find out if there are factors external and beyond the control of man that affect humans, with particular regard to the traits of character and control thereof indicated in the first concept.
To quote from an article in a prominent American magazine on tidal effects and such: "Extrinsic Rhythmicality -- It has recently become evident that organisms -- derive information as to the geophysical rhythms from their environment. Such information must be transmitted by highly pervasive forces hitherto ignored by biologists." Something similar, perhaps, to implications of the pseudo-science, Astrology. Since some real scientific observation has of late found a connection in particular between positions of planets and condition of the ionosphere, and also a relation to major earthquakes, might not some effect on genetic arrangement and character in humans follow.
Should this be found, and further perchance that an improvement in human character could be expected thereby fairly soon, such a knowledge would be of high potential -- particularly if no means be available for humanity to improve its own nature as in the first concept. If discovery indicates that an ultimate salvation could be coming one might say, 'in the hands of God', then the knowledge thereof should provide a strong antidote for the present world hopelessness. A reason to hold the line and use every effort of apparent free-will to avoid nuclear disaster until the coming of mans' better character -- "The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth" perhaps -- which would by itself ensure a time of permanent peace and enlightenment.
In conclusion may I wish you the utmost success in your present research. Whatever the outcome it is all a contribution in the endless search of true knowledge. The kind that can be of real benefit to humanity.
Sincerely yours,
Arthur J. Walker.
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