Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) is a non-profit research institution that specializes in cancer, neuroscience, plant biology, quantitative biology, and genomics. The organization is located on the shores of Cold Spring Harbor in Laurel Hollow, New York. The Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences established the CSHL in 1890, to provide scientists with facilities to research Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory. The first mission of CSHL was biological science education. Since 1998, CSHL has housed the Watson School of Biological Sciences, a PhD program dedicated to scientific research. Nobel Laureates who conducted experiments at the CSHL include Barbara McClintock, Alfred Hershey, James Watson, Francis Crick, and Sydney Brenner. Throughout its history, researchers at CSHL have studied embryology, reproductive medicine, and genetics.

Lysogenic bacteria, or virus-infected bacteria, were the primary experimental models used by scientists working in the laboratories of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, France, during the 1950s and 1960s. Historians of science have noted that the use of lysogenic bacteria as a model in microbiological research influenced the scientific achievements of the Pasteur Institute's scientists. Francois Jacob and Jacques Monod used lysogenic bacteria to develop their operon model of gene regulation, to investigate the cellular regulatory mechanisms of the lysogenic life cycle, and to infer the process of cellular differentiation in the development of more complex eukaryotes.

During the twentieth century in the United States, Alfred Day Hershey studied phages, or viruses that infect bacteria, and experimentally verified that genes were made of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. Genes are molecular, heritable instructions for how an organism develops. When Hershey started to study phages, scientists did not know if phages contained genes, or whether genes were made of DNA or protein. In 1952, Hershey and his research assistant, Martha Chase, conducted phage experiments that convinced scientists that genes were made of DNA. For his work with phages, Hershey shared the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Max Delbrück and Salvador Luria. Hershey conducted experiments with results that connected DNA to the function of genes, thereby changing the way scientists studied molecular biology and the development of organisms.

In 1951 and 1952, Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase conducted a series of experiments at the Carnegie Institute of Washington in Cold Spring Harbor, New York, that verified genes were made of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. Hershey and Chase performed their experiments, later named the Hershey-Chase experiments, on viruses that infect bacteria, also called bacteriophages. The experiments followed decades of scientists’ skepticism about whether genetic material was composed of protein or DNA. The most well-known Hershey-Chase experiment, called the Waring Blender experiment, provided concrete evidence that genes were made of DNA. The Hershey-Chase experiments settled the long-standing debate about the composition of genes, thereby allowing scientists to investigate the molecular mechanisms by which genes function in organisms.

Max Ludwig Henning Delbrick applied his knowledge of theoretical physics to biological systems such as bacterial viruses called bacteriophages, or phages, and gene replication during the twentieth century in Germany and the US. Delbrück demonstrated that bacteria undergo random genetic mutations to resist phage infections. Those findings linked bacterial genetics to the genetics of higher organisms. In the mid-twentieth century, Delbrück helped start the Phage Group and Phage Course in the US, which further organized phage research. Delbrück also contributed to the DNA replication debate that culminated in the 1958 Meselson-Stahl experiment, which demonstrated how organisms replicate their genetic information. For his work with phages, Delbrück earned part of the 1969 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. Delbrück's work helped shape and establish new fields in molecular biology and genetics to investigate the laws of inheritance and development.

In 1954 Max Delbruck published On the Replication of Desoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) to question the semi-conservative DNA replication mechanism proposed that James Watson and Francis Crick had proposed in 1953. In his article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Delbrück offers an alternative DNA replication mechanism, later called dispersive replication. Unlike other articles before it, On the Replication presents ways to experimentally test different DNA replication theories. The article sparked a debate in the 1950s over how DNA replicated, which culminated in 1957 and 1958 with the Meselson-Stahl experiment supporting semi-conservative DNA replication as suggested by Watson and Crick. On the Replication played a major role in the study of DNA in the 1950s, a period of time during which scientists gained a better understanding of DNA as a whole and its role in genetic inheritance.

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