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Molecular Vision of Life: Caltech, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Rise of the New Biology

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This fascinating study examines the rise of American molecular biology to disciplinary dominance, focusing on the period between 1930 and the elucidation of DNA structure in the mid 1950s. Research undertaken during this period, with its focus on genetic structure and function, endowed scientists with then unprecedented power over life. By viewing the new biology as both a scientific and cultural enterprise, Lily E. Kay shows that the growth of molecular biology was a result of systematic efforts by key ...
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Overview


This fascinating study examines the rise of American molecular biology to disciplinary dominance, focusing on the period between 1930 and the elucidation of DNA structure in the mid 1950s. Research undertaken during this period, with its focus on genetic structure and function, endowed scientists with then unprecedented power over life. By viewing the new biology as both a scientific and cultural enterprise, Lily E. Kay shows that the growth of molecular biology was a result of systematic efforts by key scientists and their sponsors to direct the development of biological research toward a shared vision of science and society. She analyzes the motivations and mechanisms empowering this vision by focusing on two key institutions: Caltech and its sponsor, the Rockefeller Foundation. Her study explores a number of vital, sometimes controversial topics, among them the role of private power centers in shaping scientific agenda, and the political dimensions of "pure" research. It also advances a sobering argument: the cognitive and social groundwork for genetic engineering and human genome projects was laid by the American architects of molecular biology during these early decades of the project. This book will be of interest to molecular biologists, historians, sociologists, and the general reader alike.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Lily E. Kay received a Ph.D. in the history of science from the Johns Hopkins University in 1987, and was a recipient of a Smithsonian Fellowship at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. in 1984. She was an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in bibliography at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, and has taught at the University of Chicago. Since 1989 she has been an assistant professor of history of science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 3
Molecular Biology (A New Biology?) 4
Rockefeller Foundation: Knowledge and Cultural Hegemony 6
Caltech: Engineering and Consensus 11
Molecular Vision of Life 16
1 "Social Control": Rockefeller Foundation's Agenda in the Human Sciences, 1913-1933
Salvation through Experts 22
Taming the Savage 29
Toward a "New Science of Man" 39
2 Technological Frontier: Southern California and the Emergence of Life Science at Caltech
Machine in the Pacific Garden, 1900-1930 58
The Cooperative Ideal: Toward a Life Science at Caltech 64
3 Visions and Realities: The Biology Division in the Morgan Era
Morgan and the New Biology: A Problem of Service Role 77
Contradictory Elements 91
Interlude I. Protein Paradigm 104
Heredity and the Protein View of Life 104
Chemistry of Proteins during the 1930s: Theories and Technologies 112
4 From Flies to Molecules: Physiological Genetics During Morgan Era
Jack Schultz: A Bridge to the Phenotype 121
Beadle, Ephrussi, and the Physiology of Gene Action 125
The Riddle of Life: Max Delbruck and Phage Genetics 132
Nascent Trends: Toward Giant Protein Molecules 136
5 Convergence of Goals: From Physical Chemistry to Bio-Organic Chemistry, 1930-1940
Gates Chemical Laboratory, 1930 143
Vital Processes: Pauling and Weaver 147
Crellin Laboratory: Nascent Trends 153
6 Spoils of War: Immunochemistry and Serological Genetics, 1940-1945
Terra Incognita: Shift to Immunology 164
Problem of Antibody Synthesis 171
Science at War 177
Terra Firma: 1944-1945 185
7 Microorganisms and Macromanagement: Beadle's Return to Caltech
New Biological System 194
Selling Pure Science in Wartime 199
Beadle's Return to Caltech 210
Interlude II. At a Crossroads: Shaping of Postwar Science 217
Rockefeller Foundation and the New World Order 217
Designing "Big Science": Caltech's "Magnificent Plan" 225
8 Molecular Empire (1946-1953)
Life in a Black Box: The Rise of Delbruck's Phage School 243
Key Team Member: Delbruck and the Phage Cult 250
Protein Victory, Pure and Applied 256
Epilogue: Paradigm Lost? From Nucleoproteins to DNA 269
Conclusion 280
Key to Archival Sources 283
Index 285
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