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Letter from Edgar Altenburg to Joshua Lederberg

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  • Biology
  • Ecology
  • Geography


THE RICE INSTITUTE HOUSTON. TEXAS 17 November 1952 Dr. Joshua Lederberg Dept. of Genetics Univ. of Xisconsin Nadison 6, 1Ksconsin Dear Dr. Iederberg: Th& >ou for your letter of November 7 and for the references. In your letter, you have stated very clearl:- a point which I have been trying to make, when you say that you do not believe there is strong evidence for the location of single genes in isolation anywhere in the cell (I should make the one exception of plastids). In particular, there is no convi_nc%ng evidence for a 'lplasmagenel' - either in the older work on higher organisms or in the more recent work on microorganisms. Hcreove r, in my opinion, there is a genuine distinction between an invader (whether qrribiont or parasite) and a genetic element of essentially intrinsic origin, for even in a speciercross the genetic elements which combine are still essentially of the same genotype and their combination results in a single genotype virtually all the elements of which interact to produce a single organism. It is true that a symbiont or parasite can influence the phenotype of its host, just as any other environmental agent might, but the two organisms still maintain their otm genetic identities in the sense that on the whole their own genes still form one interacting sT.stem, separate from the other. The distinction between infection and sexual reproduction is ordinarily vefy sharp, and this is the distinction we are dealing with at present. Howover, none of the above reasoning would be ualid if it could be shown that a part of a chromosome in one organism could be <~:cor~orated into a chromosome of some other very distantly related organism, or that in the case of virus and bacterial host, the genetic elements of one could become intanglod with those of the othcr.pAs for Si,m, I see no reason why geneticists should be discouraged at finding out that it is a virus - and then caliing it a virus - unless they began their investigati

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