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J Hist Biol. 2008 Winter;41(4):589-636.

Cancer, viruses, and mass migration: Paul Berg's venture into eukaryotic biology and the advent of recombinant DNA research and technology, 1967-1980.

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Program in History of Science, Princeton University, 129 Dickinson Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544-1017, USA.


The existing literature on the development of recombinant DNA technology and genetic engineering tends to focus on Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer's recombinant DNA cloning technology and its commercialization starting in the mid-1970s. Historians of science, however, have pointedly noted that experimental procedures for making recombinant DNA molecules were initially developed by Stanford biochemist Paul Berg and his colleagues, Peter Lobban and A. Dale Kaiser in the early 1970s. This paper, recognizing the uneasy disjuncture between scientific authorship and legal invention in the history of recombinant DNA technology, investigates the development of recombinant DNA technology in its full scientific context. I do so by focusing on Stanford biochemist Berg's research on the genetic regulation of higher organisms. As I hope to demonstrate, Berg's new venture reflected a mass migration of biomedical researchers as they shifted from studying prokaryotic organisms like bacteria to studying eukaryotic organisms like mammalian and human cells. It was out of this boundary crossing from prokaryotic to eukaryotic systems through virus model systems that recombinant DNA technology and other significant new research techniques and agendas emerged. Indeed, in their attempt to reconstitute 'life' as a research technology, Stanford biochemists' recombinant DNA research recast genes as a sequence that could be rewritten thorough biochemical operations. The last part of this paper shifts focus from recombinant DNA technology's academic origins to its transformation into a genetic engineering technology by examining the wide range of experimental hybridizations which occurred as techniques and knowledge circulated between Stanford biochemists and the Bay Area's experimentalists. Situating their interchange in a dense research network based at Stanford's biochemistry department, this paper helps to revise the canonized history of genetic engineering's origins that emerged during the patenting of Cohen-Boyer's recombinant DNA cloning procedures.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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