Oswald Theodore Avery studied strains of pneumococcus of the genus Streptococcus in the US in the first half of the twentieth century. This bacterium causes pneumonia, a common cause of death at the turn of the twentieth century. In a 1944 paper, Avery demonstrated with colleagues Colin Munro MacLeod and Maclyn McCarty that deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, instead of protein, formed the material of heritable transformation in bacteria. Avery helped untangle some of the relationships between genes and developmental processes.
In 1944, Oswald Avery, Colin MacLeod, and Maclyn McCarty published an article in which they concluded that genes, or molecules that dictate how organisms develop, are made of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. The article is titled “Studies on the Chemical Nature of the Substance Inducing Transformation of Pneumococcal Types: Induction of Transformation by a Desoxyribonucleic Acid Fraction Isolated from Pneumococcus Type III,” hereafter “Transformation.” The authors isolated, purified, and characterized genes within bacteria and found evidence that those genes were made of DNA and not protein. Though scientists were initially skeptical that genes were made of DNA, they later recognized that the data reported in “Transformation” were clear evidence that DNA was genetic material, a revelation that furthered research about how organisms grow, develop, and pass on traits to offspring.