Early responses to Avery et al.'s paper on DNA as hereditary material

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Abstract

Avery's et al. 's 1944 paper provides the first direct evidence of DNA having gene-like properties and marks the beginning of a new phase in early molecular genetics (with a strong focus on chemistry and DNA). The study of its reception shows that on the whole, Avery's results were immediately appreciated and motivated new research on transformation, the chemical nature of DNA's biological specificity and bacteria genetics. It shows, too, that initial problems of transferring transformation to other systems and prominent criticism of its results nurtured skepticism. Avery's experiment was downplayed and neglected particularly by many of those scientists who worked in the new fields of biochemical and biophysical genetics, genetic phage, and TMV research. This was not due to the fact that the implications of the paper could not be connected to generally accepted knowledge. Contrary to a widespread belief, the assumed uniformity of DNA as opposed to proteins was not used as an argument against the validity of Avery's et al.'s finding. The indifference rather reflected, among other things, the disciplinary gap between the chemically oriented microbiologists and the old and new geneticists who remained committed to genetic and physical methods (in particular x-ray studies) and clung to the assumption that proteins were the sole carriers of biological specificity. The responses to Avery's et al.'s paper show how different research interests in the areas between microbiology, genetics, and biochemistry interacted with the prejudices, dogmas, individual farsightedness or short-sightedness, and scientific authority during a pivotal period of early molecular biology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-232
Number of pages26
JournalHistorical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences
Volume34
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Plant Science
  • Physics and Astronomy (all)

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