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Discovering That Genes Are Made of DNA

  • This event already took place in January 2019
  • Welch Hall, 2nd Floor

Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Avery-MacLeod-McCarty Transformation Paper with Excerpts from a Never-before-seen Video Interview with Maclyn McCarty

On February 1, 1944, The Journal of Experimental Medicine published an account by Oswald Avery, Colin MacLeod, and Maclyn McCarty of what Nobelist Peter Medawar called “the most interesting and portentous biological experiment of the 20th century.” The paper concluded that the chemical substance causing a genetic transformation of pneumococcal bacterial types is DNA. By showing for the first time that DNA is a carrier of genetic information, Avery, MacLeod, and McCarty opened the gateway to the modern era of the life sciences.

Guided by excerpts from a 1998 video interview with McCarty, this talk will tell the story of how this “most interesting and portentous biological experiment” was the culmination of two epochal sets of investigations in Avery’s Rockefeller Hospital Laboratory devoted to the bacteria responsible for lobar pneumonia. The first set laid the modern foundation for the chemical study and treatment of bacterial infectious disease, including the conjugate polysaccharide vaccines for pneumonia now given to millions of individuals. The second set used this same chemically-oriented paradigm to solve the decades-long mystery about the nature of pneumococcal transformation, and in the process discovered the stuff genes are made of.

Event Details

Speaker: Geoffrey Montgomery, science writer and former assistant to the president for special projects (1992-1998), The Rockefeller University
Introductory Remarks: Vincent A. Fischetti, Ph.D., professor and head, Laboratory of Bacterial Pathogenesis and Immunology, The Rockefeller University
Speaker bio(s)

Geoffrey Montgomery was assistant to the president for special projects at The Rockefeller University during the administration of Torsten N. Wiesel. Montgomery helped organize the 50th anniversary celebration of the publication of the Avery-MacLeod-McCarty DNA/pneumococcal transformation paper, and he conducted the 1998 video interview with McCarty. Before coming to Rockefeller, Montgomery was a contributing editor at Discover magazine. He is currently writing a discovery narrative about the Hox gene complex, centered on the pioneering work of E.B. Lewis, who began his studies just two years after the Avery et al. paper was published in 1944.

Open to
The Rita & Frits Markus Library
Olga Nilova
The Rita & Frits Markus Library
Wine and cheese reception: 3:30-3:45

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