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The Harold Varmus Papers

Letter from J. Michael Bishop to Peter K. Vogt, University of Southern California School of Medicine pdf (99,070 Bytes) transcript of pdf
Letter from J. Michael Bishop to Peter K. Vogt, University of Southern California School of Medicine
Item is a photocopy.
Number of Image Pages:
2 (99,070 Bytes)
1981-01-12 (January 12, 1981)
Bishop, J. Michael
Vogt, Peter K.
University of Southern California School of Medicine
Original Repository: University of California, San Francisco. Archives and Special Collections. Harold E. Varmus Papers
Reproduced with permission of J. Michael Bishop.
Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Terminology as Topic
Exhibit Category:
Retroviruses and the Genetic Origins of Cancer, 1970-1993
Box Number: 2
Folder Number: 16
Unique Identifier:
Document Type:
Letters (correspondence)
Physical Condition:
Series: UCSF Collections
SubSeries: Collection Number MSS 84-25
SubSubSeries: Correspondence, 1971-1984
Folder: Oncology nomenclature, 1980-1981
12 January 1981
Dear Peter:
I write at last about the proposed nomenclature for retrovirus "oncogenes"; please accept my apologies for the delay. My tardiness undoubtedly reflects the fact that I have little enthusiasm for any of the proposals, yet have none better to propose. I fear that we are about to certify an awkward albatross -- to this day, few of the designations proposed in the Coffin-Varmus scheme have become second nature to me: I wish we could tie the scheme more directly to the names of the viruses, in order to achieve ease of recognition, but I see no uniform way to do this and still adhere to the three letter constraint. I am also troubled by the alleles -- which it clearly does not (as Dave Baltimore and several others pointed out in earlier correspondence).
I have found a repeated need for generic terms to represent oncogenes and proto-oncogenes. I suspect that oncogenes will survive, whatever we do, but I do not relish the change to c-onc (cell oncogene) with all that that implies. What do you think? I find proto-oncogene less committal, and less reminiscent of the "oncogene hypothesis" with its rather ill-conceived relationship to reality as we now understand it.
As for some of the more controversial designations: I prefer myc to mac; I question the wisdom of doubling the nomenclature for erb (ie., a and b), particularly at this early time; something has to be done about mas -- it seems too far removed from the other FeSV designations, which include the allusion to "feline"; I suggest rev rather than rel (even Temin didn't recognize the latter . . .); and I certainly would not object to changing fps, as several others have suggested in earlier correspondence.
Steve Martin is correct (as usual): the superscripts are a horrendous problem. Could we take this opportunity to change the entire system to parenthetical designations that follow the Mr of the proteins?
In my heart of hearts, I think I would still prefer a more casual system in which a generic designation (such as onc) would be followed by a parenthetical designation of the particular virus in question; thus, onc(MCV), onc(AEV), etc. But I find no support for this in the available correspondence and therefore subscribe to the proposal before the house.
With best regards,
J. Michael Bishop, M.D.
Professor, Microbiology and Immunology
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