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May 23, 1977

The Professor, the Institute and DNA

JAMA. 1977;237(21):2337. doi:10.1001/jama.1977.03270480077035

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Some scientists love a public forum, most regard it as an area in which to tread lightly and speak softly, while others avoid it altogether. Such scientific recluses may receive little notice from most of their colleagues and none at all from the public, and that is the way they like it. When one of them makes an epoch-making discovery, the scientific community may be slow to act on it, and the unassuming discoverer may fail to receive his due. So it was with Oswald Avery, who discovered, along with his younger associates, Colin MacLeod and Maclyn McCarty, that the substance that transformed pneumococci of one type into another was DNA. Characteristically, he made no great claims for this discovery, but in a letter to his brother he wrote that by means of a known chemical substance it was now "possible to induce predictable and hereditary changes in cells. This