Foundations | 'Unlimited in its Implications...'

One cold night in 1945, a Columbia University medical school student named Joshua Lederberg read Oswald Avery's 1944 landmark paper that identified deoxyribonucleic acid as the chemical that carries genetic information. Lederberg wrote his immediate reactions in a diary entry the next day:

"I had the evening all to myself, and particularly the excruciating pleasure of reading Avery ... Terrific and unlimited in its implications." He ended the entry with what, on hindsight, seems like understatement: "I can see real cause for excitement in this stuff though."

Soon after, Lederberg persuaded his mentor, Francis J. Ryan, to allow him to begin research in bacterial genetics. In 1958, he won the Nobel Prize for proving that bacteria can reproduce sexually.

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