Reconceiving the Gene

Seymour Benzer's Adventures in Phage Genetics

Frederic Lawrence Holmes; Edited by William C. Summers

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June 21, 2006
352 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
47 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300110784

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This book relates how, between 1954 and 1961, the biologist Seymour Benzer mapped the fine structure of the rII region of the genome of the bacterial virus known as phage T4. Benzer’s accomplishments are widely recognized as a tipping point in mid-twentieth-century molecular biology when the nature of the gene was recast in molecular terms. More often than any other individual, he is considered to have led geneticists from the classical gene into the molecular age.
Drawing on Benzer’s remarkably complete record of his experiments, his correspondence, and published sources, this book reconstructs how the former physicist initiated his work in phage biology and achieved his landmark investigation. The account of Benzer’s creativity as a researcher is a fascinating story that also reveals intriguing aspects common to the scientific enterprise.

The late Frederic Lawrence Holmes was Avalon Professor and chair for the Section of History of Medicine at Yale University. William C. Summers is professor of therapeutic radiology and molecular biophysics and biochemistry, as well as lecturer in history, at Yale University. 

“Holmes, a master of the historical fine-mapping of science, uses Benzer’s pathbreaking contributions to show how molecular biology and classical genetics converged in the mid-twentieth century.”—Angela Creager, Princeton University

"Famous for his exploration of the investigative pathways by which scientists have arrived at major discoveries, the late Professor Holmes has here applied this approach to Benzer's study of the fine structure of the genetic map of a bacterial virus. Scholarly, authoritative and a revelation."—Robert Olby, University of Pittsburgh

"Although technical in places, Reconceiving the Gene should nevertheless be accessible to a wide scientifically literate audience...[a] captivating book..."---Nature

"A careful, meticulously researched history of Benzer's map. . . . There is rich material here for any reader with an interest in the fine structure of great experiments."—New England Journal of Medicine

"A historical view of molecular biology on the ground, one that serves as a corrective to the phage lore that sometimes substitutes for the history of the field. . . . Holme's final work of scholarship provides an illuminating vantage point on the convergence of molecular biology and genetics as it occurred at the laboratory bench."—Angela N.H. Creager, Perspectives in Biology and Medicine

"Outstanding scholarship."—Edna Suarez-Diaz, Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences
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William C. Summers

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