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Biographical Memoirs: Volume 62 (1993)

Chapter: Cold Spring Harbor and the Phage and Phycomyces Courses

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Suggested Citation:"Cold Spring Harbor and the Phage and Phycomyces Courses." National Academy of Sciences. 1993. Biographical Memoirs: Volume 62. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2201.
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Page 84
Suggested Citation:"Cold Spring Harbor and the Phage and Phycomyces Courses." National Academy of Sciences. 1993. Biographical Memoirs: Volume 62. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2201.
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Page 85

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MAX LUDWIG HENNING DELBRÜCK 84 In addition, an important collaboration was established in the early 1940s with the electron microscopist Thomas F. Anderson. The basic aim of the Group was to understand the mechanism of phage replication—how infection by a single particle resulted in the liberation of some 200 particles half an hour later—and, of course, the nature of the gene. It is not my intention in this memoir to recount the many ideas and experiments which followed their zigzag course toward the solution of these problems, which may be culled from the titles in Max's bibliography, but rather to show Max's overall involvement and influence on this enterprise. However, one important technical decision should be mentioned. Until 1944 most workers used phage strains and bacterial hosts which they themselves had isolated, so that it was almost impossible to build up a body of comparable knowledge. Max therefore negotiated a "phage treaty" under which it was agreed that research be concentrated on a set of seven phages (T1-T7), all of which infected the same host, Escherichia coli strain B. Cold Spring Harbor and the Phage and Phycomyces Courses After their first visit in 1941, Max and Manny returned to the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for the summer months nearly every year. They were often joined by Salvador Luria, A. H. Doermann, A. D. Hershey, Mark Adams and many others over the years who became interested in phage, not only for research but, more importantly, for intellectual interaction and stimulus. In 1950 Hershey became a member of the Department of Genetics of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, which was also located at Cold Spring Harbor. In 1945 Max organized the first of 26 successive annual Phage Courses at Cold Spring Harbor, and was the princi

MAX LUDWIG HENNING DELBRÜCK 85 pal instructor in the first three of them. This was made possible through the vision and enterprise of Milislav Demerec, director of the Laboratory from 1941 to 1960. Demerec was a classical geneticist who foresaw the potential of bacteria and their phages as genetic tools, abandoned Drosophila to work with them, and helped others to do the same. The course was devised not only for biologists but also for biochemists and physicists, and the students ranged from young postdoctorals to eminent physicists such as Leo Szilard who took the course in 1947. The importance of a quantitative and statistical approach to the new biology was stressed by the fact that a prerequisite for the first course (checked by an admission test!) was "facility in the processes of multiplication and division of large numbers; elements of calculus; properties of exponential functions." The recruitment value to the phage field of these courses, probably first suggested by Luria (1), may be guessed from the fact that the total number of students over the years was well over 400, including many from abroad. Moreover, of some 130 students who attended the first ten courses, not less than 30 became recognized phage workers or bacterial geneticists so their initial interest must at least have been confirmed. In addition to these courses, Max also organized a series of Phage Meetings, the first three of which were held at Nashville. The first meeting, in 1947, attracted only eight people, including Anderson, Doermann and Hershey. The fourth meeting, also organized by Max, was at Cold Spring Harbor in 1950 and thereafter the meetings continued there annually, without interruption, through 1981, attended by hundreds of participants. In the early 1950s Max became interested in sensory perception and transduction and chose, particularly, to study the phototropic response of the large aerial sporangiophores

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Biographic Memoirs: Volume 62 contains the biographies of deceased members of the National Academy of Sciences and bibliographies of their published works. Each biographical essay was written by a member of the Academy familiar with the professional career of the deceased. For historical and bibliographical purposes, these volumes are worth returning to time and again.

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