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Letter from Joshua Lederberg to Carl F. Robinow

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  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Literature

Abstract

August 18, 1975 Dr. Carl F. Robinow Ilnpartment ofology University of Western Ontario London, Ontario, Canada Dear Carl, I had a student working with me this summer on a special project of historical sesearch on the history of the idea that viruses might contain nucleic acids, prior to B%den and Pirfe's correction of Stanley's characterization of tobacco mosaic virus. One point that has occurred to me was the availability of the Feulgen reaction for cytochemical assay and the potentiality this afforded for a much earlier determination of the role of DNA in some virus inclusion bodies. We had some difficulty in tracing the literary history of this particular subject, but I was delighted to encounter your own contribution (Bland and Robinow, Nature, 1938). I believe you state there that Haagen, 1937, was the first to apply this technique. I wonder if you were aware of Cowdry's 1928 report (Science 68:40, 1928). In any event, I would really be quite grateful to you if you could enlarge upon the contemporary images of that problem in the era just before and during the controversy generated by Wendell Stanley&s isolation of TMV. Of course, before viruses could be purified, and lacking the more energetic pursuit of the cytochemical approach, one could hardly do much more than speculate about the chemical composition of virus particles., I am nevertheless interested In tracing the history of the idea that they might contain nucleic acids and have not really been able to get a clear picture on that point. Wendell Stanley, of course, dismissed It totally and gives no corresponding references from the period of his own work, until he was pressed by the corrections of Bawden and Pirie. I was interested to discover that Sanfelice (1914, Zeitschrift fur Hygiene 76:257) already made allusions about nuclear protein and even seemed to imply, though with little evidence, that the pure nuclear protein was infective. I have been unable to discover the milieu In

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