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The Symposia, 1933 — 2003

1946:   Heredity and Variation in Microorganisms, Vol. XI

Organizer: Milislav Demerec

Table of Contents

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The 1946 Symposium was the first to be held following a three-year hiatus while the Second World War raged. During that time, Laboratory scientists had worked on war-related projects, most notably Demerec who, with Alexander Hollander, produced a Pencillium mutant that made twice as much penicillin as the standard strain. Participants in the Heredity and Variation in Microorganisms Symposium must have arrived at Cold Spring Harbor in the June of 1946 with the feeling that things were, perhaps, getting back to normal. Demerec must also have looked forward to the income from the sale of the Symposia volumes. Sales of $3344 in 1943 had fallen to $919 in 1945; with the 1946 volume, sales rebounded to $2789.

This Symposium marked the beginning of a series of meetings on genetics that reached its climax in the 1966 Symposium on the Genetic Code. The presentations at the 1946, 1947, 1951, 1953, 1956, 1958, 1961, 1963 and 1966 Symposia provide a record of the emergence of two new fields of scientific enquiry-molecular biology and molecular genetics.

Demerec persisted with the two changes he had made in the 1942 Symposium—to publish the papers in alphabetical order and to limit the publication of the

discussions. The latter was especially unfortunate because we are deprived of how the participants reacted to Maclyn McCarty's presentation on bacterial transformation. On the other hand, two presentations on cytoplasmic hereditary factors—by Tracey Sonneborn on Paramecium and the Lindegrens on yeast—evoked several pages of discussion. As seemed to happen rather often during this period, the most significant presentation was added to the meeting at the last moment. While Louis Dienes presented evidence for bacterial sexual reproduction based on rather dubious morphological evidence, Joshua Lederberg and Ed Tatum presented their convincing data on recombination in bacteria carrying four or five selectable markers. This discovery, following Hershey's demonstration the previous year of recombination in phage, marked the beginnings of bacterial genetics that, together with phage genetics, was to dominate the world of genetics.

Jan A. Witkowski

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