Strategies: Techniques and Molecular Systems Chairman’s Introduction
In beginning this meeting of the Ways and Means Committee which will last throughout the day, if I have any contribution from a good many years of involvement in gene transfer, it is to comment on the ideas that we used to hold in the past which have had to be collapsed or modified as we extended them as bridges into the new domain of genetic engineering. We used to consider DNA as metabolically stable, an unmodified substance, something like an aged grandfather living in the family, being served by all the family, influential, but remote from life in the kitchen. We now know how many ways DNA is participating, being subject to exchange, excision or modification, etc., as it serves its functions. We thought that very few kinds of cells could take up DNA. We used to say there are just two or three transformable species; E. coli for example was “not transformable,” unless you accepted reports by Boivin and Vendrely about 1948 on very special strains, whose transformations could not be repeated by other people. We thought that the genes could only be transferred into pre-existing sites to which they were already homologous. Our approaches then and now considerably depend upon concepts about what is called the unity of biochemistry. Stimulated by Helinski’s insightful and exciting talk, I have tried to reconsider just what we then meant and what we would now mean by the unity of biochemistry.
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