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A Pioneer in DNA Research

MD Publications
Publication Date
  • Pneumococcal Infections
  • History Of Medicine
  • Dna
  • Transformation
  • Genetic
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Literature
  • Medicine


MD REMEMBERS: A Pioneer in DNA Research In honor of the centennial of Os- wald Theodore Avery, who led the Rockefeller Institute team that identified DNA as the transmitter of genetic information, his friend and colleague Dr. Rene Dubos re- cently published a biography* of the shy physician-bacteriologist known as “the Professor” or “Fess.” According to his biographer, “Avery and the Institute had much in com- mon. . . . They both emerged and developed in the atmosphere of expectancy generated by a few triumphs of scientific medicine at the end of the nineteenth century; both followed an intellectual course that led them from the study of specific diseases to large problems of theoretical biology; both became part of a culture in which labora- tory scientists were regarded as members of a kind of priesthood, willing to accept social constraints for the sake of intellectual priv- ileges.” When Dr. Avery joined the In- stitute hospital staff in 1913, he moved into a small laboratory where for 35 years most of his ex- periments were conducted on Dip- lococcus pneumoniae. Referring to his preoccupation with this species as “digging a deep hole in one place,” he used simple equipment and kitchen chemistry to uncover a rich vein of information concern- ing immunological responses as well as pneumococcal biology. Early in his career at the Insti- tute, Avery, collaborating with Dr. Alphonse R. Dochez, discovered that pneumococci produced immu- nologically specific soluble sub- stances that could be demonstrated in the body fluids of infected pa- tients. In 1923 chemical studies by Drs. Michael Heidelberger and Av- ery revealed that these substances were polysaccharides in the cell- ular capsules. These findings and Avery’s discovery that the virulence of pneumococci depends on their capsules and that minute chemical differences in the polysaccharides each elicits a specific immunolog- ical response contributed signif- icantly to

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