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Alfred Day Hershey

Alfred Day Hershey

Alfred Day Hershey (1908-1997) shared the Nobel Prize in medicine for his research on viruses.

By seeking to understand the reproduction of viruses, the simplest form of life, Alfred Day Hershey made important discoveries about the nature of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and laid the groundwork for modern molecular genetics. Highly regarded as an experimental scientist, Hershey is perhaps best known for the 1952 "blender experiment" that he and Martha Chase conducted to demonstrate that DNA, not protein, was the genetic material of life. This discovery stimulated further research into DNA, including the discovery by James Watson and Francis Crick of the double-helix structure of DNA the following year. Hershey's work with bacteriophages, the viruses that prey on bacteria, was often carried out in loose collaboration with other scientists working with bacteriophages. Hershey shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1969 with Max Delbrück and Salvador Edward Luria. The Nobel Committee praised the three scientists for their contributions to molecular biology. Their basic research into viruses also helped others develop vaccines against viral diseases such as polio.

Hershey was born on December 4, 1908, in Owosso, Michigan, to Robert Day Hershey and Alma Wilbur Hershey. His father worked for an auto manufacturer. Alfred attended public schools in Owosso and nearby Lansing. He received his B.S. in bacteriology from Michigan State College (now Michigan State University) in 1930 and his Ph.D. in chemistry from the same school in 1934. As a graduate student, Hershey's interest in bacteriology and the biochemistry of life was already evident. His doctoral dissertation was on the chemistry of Brucella, the bacteria responsible for brucellosis, also known as undulant fever. Undulant fever is transmitted to humans from cattle and causes recurrent fevers and joint pain. After receiving his Ph.D., Hershey took a position as a research assistant in the Department of Bacteriology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. There he worked with Jacques Jacob Bronfenbrenner, one of the pioneers in bacteriophage research in the United States. During the sixteen years he spent teaching and conducting research at Washington University, from 1934 to 1950, Hershey was promoted to instructor (1936), assistant professor (1938), and associate professor (1942).

Bacteriophages—known simply as phages—had been discovered in 1915, only nineteen years before Hershey began his career. Phages are viruses that reproduce by preying on bacteria, first attacking and then dissolving them. For scientists who study bacteria, phages are a source of irritation because they can destroy bacterial cultures. But other scientists are fascinated by this tiny organism. Perhaps the smallest living thing, phages consist of little more than the protein and DNA (the molecule of heredity) found in a cellular nucleus. Remarkably efficient, however, phages reproduce by conquering bacteria and subverting them to the phage particles' own needs. This type of reproduction is known as replication. Little was known about the particulars of this process when Hershey was a young scientist.

By studying viral replication, scientists hoped to learn more about the viral diseases that attack humans, like mumps, the common cold, German measles, and polio. But the study of bacteriophages also promised findings with implications that reached far beyond disease cures into the realm of understanding life itself. If Hershey and other researchers could determine how phages replicated, they stood to learn how higher organisms—including humans— passed genetic information from generation to generation.

Hershey's study of phages soon yielded several discoveries that furthered an understanding of genetic inheritance and change. In 1945 he showed that phages were capable of spontaneous mutation. Faced with a bacterial culture known to be resistant to phage attack, most, but not all, phages would die. By mutating, some phages survived to attack the bacteria and replicate. This finding was significant because it showed that mutations did not occur gradually, as one school of scientific thought believed, but rather occurred immediately and spontaneously in viruses. It also helped explain why viral attack is so difficult to prevent. In 1946 Hershey made another discovery that changed what scientists thought about viruses. He showed that if different strains of phages infected the same bacterial cell, they could combine or exchange genetic material. This is similar to what occurs when higher forms of life sexually reproduce, of course. But it was the first time viruses were shown to combine genetic material. Hershey called this phenomenon genetic recombination.

Hershey was not the only scientist who saw the potential in working with bacteriophages. Two other influential scientists were also pursuing the same line of investigation. Max Delbrück, a physicist, had been studying phages in the United States since he fled Nazi Germany in 1937. Studying genetic recombination independently of Hershey, he reached the same results that Hershey did in the same year. Similarly, Salvador Edward Luria, a biologist and physician who immigrated to the United States from Italy in 1940, had independently confirmed Hershey's work on spontaneous mutation in 1945. Although the three men never worked side by side in the same laboratory, they were collaborators nonetheless. Through conversation and correspondence, they shared results and encouraged each other in their phage research. Indeed, these three scientists formed the core of the self-declared "phage group," a loose-knit clique of scientists who encouraged research on particular strains of bacteriophage. By avoiding competition and duplication, the group hoped to advance phage research that much faster.

In 1950 Hershey accepted a position as a staff scientist in the department of genetics (now the Genetics Research Unit) of the Carnegie Institute at Cold Spring Harbor, New York. It was at Cold Spring Harbor that Hershey conducted his most influential experiment. Hershey wished to prove conclusively that the genetic material in phages was DNA. Analysis with an electron microscope had showed that phages consist only of DNA surrounded by a protein shell. Other scientists' experiments had revealed that during replication some part of the parental phages was being transferred to their offspring. The task before Hershey was to show that it was the phage DNA that was passed on to succeeding generations and that gave the signal for replication and growth.

Although Hershey was not alone in having reached the belief that DNA was the stuff of life, many scientists were unconvinced. They doubted that DNA had the complexity needed to carry the blueprint for life and believed instead that the genetic code resided in protein, a far more elaborate molecule. Furthermore, no one had yet demonstrated the technical skill needed to design an experiment that would answer the question once and for all.

With Martha Chase, Hershey found a way to determine what role each of the phage components played in replication. In experiments done in 1951 and 1952, Hershey used radioactive phosphorus to tag the DNA and radioactive sulfur to tag the protein. (The DNA contains no sulfur and the protein contains no phosphorus.) Hershey and Chase then allowed the marked phage particles to infect a bacterial culture and to begin the process of replication. This process was interrupted when the scientists spun the culture at a high speed in a Waring blender.

In this manner, Hershey and Chase learned that the shearing action of the blender separated the phage protein from the bacterial cells. Apparently while the phage DNA entered the bacterium and forced it to start replicating phage particles, the phage protein remained outside, attached to the cell wall. The researchers surmised that the phage particle attached itself to the outside of a bacterium by its protein "tail" and literally injected its nucleic acid into the cell. DNA, and not protein, was responsible for communicating the genetic information needed to produce the next generation of phage.

Clearly DNA seemed to hold the key to heredity for all forms of life, not just viruses. Yet while the blender experiment answered one question about DNA, it also raised a host of other questions. Now scientists wanted to know more about the action of DNA. How did DNA operate? How did it replicate itself? How did it direct the production of proteins? What was its chemical structure? Until that last question was answered, scientists could only speculate about answers to the others. Hershey's achievement spurred other scientists into DNA research.

In 1953, a year after Hershey's blender experiment, the structure of DNA was determined in Cambridge, England, by James Dewey Watson and Francis Harry Compton Crick. Watson, who was only twenty-five years old when the structure was announced, had worked with Luria at the University of Indiana. For their discovery of DNA's double-helix structure, Watson and Crick received the Nobel Prize in 1962.

Hershey, Delbrück, and Luria also received a Nobel Prize for their contributions to molecular biology, but not until 1969. This seeming delay in recognition for their accomplishments prompted the New York Times to ask in an October 20, 1969, editorial: "Delbrück, Hershey and Luria richly deserve their awards, but why did they have to wait so long for this recognition? Every person associated with molecular biology knows that these are the grand pioneers of the field, the giants on whom others—some of whom received the Nobel Prize years ago—depended for their own great achievements." Yet other scientists observed that the blender experiment merely offered experimental proof of a theoretical belief that was already widely held. After the blender experiment, Hershey continued investigating the structure of phage DNA. Although human DNA winds double-stranded like a spiral staircase, Hershey found that some phage DNA is single-stranded and some is circular. In 1962 Hershey was named director of the Genetics Research Unit at Cold Spring Harbor. He retired in 1974 and died of cardiopulmonary failure at the age of 88 on May 22, 1997.

Hershey was "known to his colleagues as a very quiet, withdrawn sort of man who avoids crowds and noise and most hectic social activities," according to the report of the 1969 Nobel Prize in the October 17, 1969, New York Times. His hobbies were woodworking, reading, gardening, and sailing. He married Harriet Davidson, a former research assistant, on November 15, 1945. She later became an editor of the Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology. She and Hershey had one child, a son named Peter Manning. Born on August 7, 1956, Peter was twelve years old when Hershey won the Nobel Prize.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Hershey received the Albert Lasker Award of the American Public Health Association (1958) and the Kimber Genetics Award of the National Academy of Sciences (1965) for his discoveries concerning the genetic structure and replication processes of viruses. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1958.

Further Reading

Fox, Daniel M., editor, Nobel Laureates in Medicine or Physiology: A Biographical Dictionary, Garland, 1990.

Magner, Lois N., History of the Life Sciences, Dekker, 1979.

McGraw-Hill Modern Scientists and Engineers, McGraw-Hill, 1980.

Wasson, Tyler, editor, Nobel Prize Winners, H. W. Wilson, 1987.

New York Times, October 17, 1969, p. 24; October 20, 1969, p. 46.

Science, October 24, 1969, p. 479-481.

"Three Americans Share Nobel Prize for Medicine for Work on Bacteriophage," in Chemical and Engineering News, October 27, 1969, p. 16.

Time, October 24, 1969, p. 84. □

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Hershey, Alfred Day (1908-1997)

Hershey, Alfred Day (1908-1997)

American microbiologist

By seeking to understand the reproduction of viruses , Alfred Day Hershey made important discoveries about the nature of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA ) and laid the groundwork for modern molecular genetics . Highly regarded as an experimental scientist, Hershey is perhaps best known for the 1952 "blender experiment" that he and Martha Chase conducted to demonstrate that DNA, not protein, was the genetic material of life. This discovery stimulated further research into DNA, including the discovery by James Watson and Francis Crick of the double-helix structure of DNA the following year. Hershey's work with bacteriophages, the viruses that prey on bacteria , was often carried out in loose collaboration with other scientists working with bacteriophages. Hershey shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1969 with Max Delbrück and Salvador Edward Luria. The Nobel Committee praised the three scientists for their contributions to molecular biology . Their basic research into viruses also helped others develop vaccines against viral diseases such as polio.

Hershey was born in Owosso, Michigan, to Robert Day Hershey and Alma Wilbur Hershey. Hershey's father worked for an auto manufacturer. Alfred attended public schools in Owosso and nearby Lansing. He received his B.S. in bacteriology from Michigan State College (now Michigan State University) in 1930 and his Ph.D. in chemistry from the same school in 1934. Hershey's interest in bacteriology and the biochemistry of life was already evident when he was a graduate student. His doctoral dissertation was on the chemistry of Brucella, the bacteria responsible for brucellosis , also known as undulant fever. After receiving his Ph.D., Hershey took a position as a research assistant in the Department of Bacteriology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. There, he worked with Jacques Jacob Bronfenbrenner, one of the pioneers in bacteriophage research in the United States. During the sixteen years he spent teaching and conducting research at Washington University, from 1934 to 1950, Hershey was promoted to instructor (1936), assistant professor (1938), and associate professor (1942).

Bacteriophagesknown simply as phageshad been discovered in 1915, only nineteen years before Hershey began his career. Phages are viruses that reproduce by preying on bacteria, first attacking and then dissolving them. For scientists who study bacteria, phages are a source of irritation because they can destroy bacterial cultures. But other scientists are fascinated by this tiny organism. Perhaps the smallest living thing, phages consist of little more than the protein and DNA (the molecule of heredity) found in a cellular nucleus .

By studying viral replication, scientists hoped to learn more about the viral diseases that attack humans, like mumps , the common cold , German measles , and polio. But the study of bacteriophages also promised findings with implications that reached far beyond disease cures into the realm of understanding life itself. If Hershey and other researchers could determine how phages replicated, they stood to learn how higher organismsincluding humanspassed genetic information from generation to generation.

Hershey's study of phages soon yielded several discoveries that furthered an understanding of genetic inheritance and change. In 1945, he showed that phages were capable of spontaneous mutation. Faced with a bacterial culture known to be resistant to phage attack, most, but not all, phages would die. By mutating, some phages survived to attack the bacteria and replicate. This finding was significant because it showed that mutations did not occur gradually, as one school of scientific thought believed, but immediately and spontaneously in viruses. It also helped explain why a viral attack is so difficult to prevent. In 1946, Hershey made another discovery that changed what scientists thought about viruses. He showed that if different strains of phages infected the same bacterial cell, they could combine or exchange genetic material. This is similar to what occurs when higher forms of life sexually reproduce, of course. But it was the first time viruses were shown to combine genetic material. Hershey called this phenomenon genetic recombination .

Hershey was not the only scientist who saw the potential in working with bacteriophages. Two other influential scientists were also pursuing the same line of investigation. Max Delbrück, a physicist, had been studying phages in the United States since he fled Nazi Germany in 1937. Studying genetic recombination independently of Hershey, he reached the same results that Hershey did in the same year. Similarly, Salvador Edward Luria, a biologist and physician who immigrated to the United States from Italy in 1940, had independently confirmed Hershey's work on spontaneous mutation in 1945. Although the three men never worked side by side in the same laboratory, they were collaborators nonetheless. Through conversation and correspondence, they shared results and encouraged each other in their phage research. Indeed, these three scientists formed the core of the self-declared "phage group," a loose-knit clique of scientists who encouraged research on particular strains of bacteriophage. By avoiding competition and duplication, the group hoped to advance phage research that much faster.

In 1950, Hershey accepted a position as a staff scientist in the department of genetics (now the Genetics Research Unit) of the Carnegie Institute at Cold Spring Harbor, New York. It was at Cold Spring Harbor that Hershey conducted his most influential experiment. Hershey wished to prove conclusively that the genetic material in phages was DNA. Analysis with an electron microscope had showed that phages consist only of DNA surrounded by a protein shell. Other scientists' experiments had revealed that during replication some part of the parental phages was being transferred to their offspring. The task before Hershey was to show that it was the phage DNA that was passed on to succeeding generations and that gave the signal for replication and growth.

With Martha Chase, Hershey found a way to determine what role each of the phage components played in replication. In experiments done in 1951 and 1952, Hershey used radioactive phosphorus to tag the DNA and radioactive sulfur to tag the protein. (The DNA contains no sulfur and the protein contains no phosphorus.) Hershey and Chase then allowed the marked phage particles to infect a bacterial culture and to begin the process of replication. This process was interrupted when the scientists spun the culture at a high speed in a blender.

In this manner, Hershey and Chase learned that the shearing action of the blender separated the phage protein from the bacterial cells. Apparently while the phage DNA entered the bacterium and forced it to start replicating phage particles, the phage protein remained outside, attached to the cell wall. The researchers surmised that the phage particle attached itself to the outside of a bacterium by its protein "tail" and literally injected its nucleic acid into the cell. DNA, and not protein, was responsible for communicating the genetic information needed to produce the next generation of phage.

In 1953, a year after Hershey's blender experiment, the structure of DNA was determined in Cambridge, England, by James Dewey Watson and Francis Harry Compton Crick. Watson, who was only twenty-five years old when the structure was announced, had worked with Luria at the University of Indiana. For their discovery of DNA's double-helix structure, Watson and Crick received the Nobel Prize in 1962.

Hershey, Delbrück, and Luria also received a Nobel Prize for their contributions to molecular biology, but not until 1969. This seeming delay in recognition for their accomplishments prompted the New York Times to ask in an October 20, 1969, editorial: "Delbrück, Hershey and Luria richly deserve their awards, but why did they have to wait so long for this recognition? Every person associated with molecular biology knows that these are the grand pioneers of the field, the giants on whom otherssome of whom received the Nobel Prize years agodepended for their own great achievements." Yet other scientists observed that the blender experiment merely offered experimental proof of a theoretical belief that was already widely held. After the blender experiment, Hershey continued investigating the structure of phage DNA. Although human DNA winds double-stranded like a spiral staircase, Hershey found that some phage DNA is single-stranded and some is circular. In 1962, Hershey was named director of the Genetics Research Unit at Cold Spring Harbor. He retired in 1974.

Hershey was "known to his colleagues as a quiet man who avoids crowds and noise and most hectic social activities," according to the report of the 1969 Nobel Prize in the 17 October 1969 New York Times. His hobbies were woodworking, reading, gardening, and sailing. He married Harriet Davidson, a former research assistant, in 1945. She later became an editor of the Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology. Hershey and his wife had one son. Hershey died at his home in Syosset, New York, at age 89.

See also Bacteriophage and bacteriophage typing; Molecular biology and molecular genetics; Viral genetics

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Hershey, Alfred Day

Alfred Day Hershey, 1908–1997, American microbiologist, b. Owosso, Mich., Ph.D., Michigan State College (now Michigan State Univ.), 1934. Hershey was a professor at the Washington Univ. School of Medicine (1934–50), then joined the Carnegie Institution of Washington, Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y. He was director of the genetics research unit there from 1962 until he retired in 1974. In 1969 he shared the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with Max Delbrück and Salvador Luria for parallel work that led to new knowledge about the replication mechanism and genetic structure of viruses. Beginning in 1940, the three became interested in using bacteriophages, a group of viruses that destroy bacteria, to study self-replication, mutation, and other fundamental life processes. Hershey built on Delbrück's finding that viruses infecting the same cell showed an unexpected interaction and demonstrated that this phenomenon was the result of genetic recombination and, further, that it could be used to construct the genetic map of viruses. Collectively, the work of the three made significant contributions to the discipline of virology and to the progress of molecular biology.

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Hershey, Alfred Day

HERSHEY, Alfred Day

(b. 4 December 1908 in Owosso, Michigan; d. 22 May 1997 in Syosset, New York), Nobel Prize–winning bacteriologist, biochemist, and molecular geneticist whose work with bacteriophages helped prove that DNA is the source of heredity, thus paving the way to an understanding of viral infections.

Hershey was the son of Robert Day Hershey, an auto manufacturer, and Alma Wilbur, a homemaker. He attended public schools in Owosso and Lansing, Michigan, and Michigan State College, from which he received a B.S. degree in bacteriology in 1930 and a Ph.D. in chemistry in 1934. He then took a research assistant position at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where he became an associate professor in 1942 and taught until 1950. On 15 Nov. 1945 Hershey married Harriet Davidson, a former research assistant who later became editor of a biological review; they had one son.

Hershey focused his research on bacteriophages (commonly known as phages), small particles made of a protein shell and a DNA molecule that are found in the nucleus of cells. Phages are viruses that can infect bacteria, turning the latter into virus manufacturers and subsequently killing them. While working in St. Louis, Hershey met the physicist Max Delbrück and the biologist and physician Salvador E. Luria, and the three researchers formed the basis of what would later be known as the "phage group," scientists who shared their phage research results to advance science.

In 1950 Hershey moved to the department of genetics of the Carnegie Institution of Washington (now the Carnegie Institute) in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. It was there that he carried out one of modern biology's most famous experiments, in 1952. Together with his assistant Martha Chase, Hershey tagged the DNA of phage T2 with radioactive phosphorous (DNA contains a lot of phosphorous, proteins have very little), and the protein shell of another batch of the same phage was labeled with radioactive sulfur (DNA contains no sulfur). Using a kitchen blender to separate the infected bacteria from phage particles clinging to the outside walls of the bacteria, Hershey and Chase found the radioactive DNA inside the bacteria, while the radioactive protein shell stayed outside. This provided the answer to a question that scientists had been asking for several decades: Which is the hereditary material, protein or DNA? Most researchers had assumed that proteins, owing to their greater complexity, were the hereditary molecules. The results of the blender experiment surprised even Hershey. His proof heralded the explosion of genetics that has changed life as we know it today. According to James Watson, the blender experiment was the final push that he and his research partner Francis Crick needed to determine the structure of DNA.

Following the blender experiment, Hershey continued to work with phages and supplied other molecular biologists with valuable tools and insights. To characterize phage DNA further, he needed to be able to extract and purify it from a phage. In the 1950s and early 1960s there were no techniques to achieve this end, so Hershey and his colleagues set out to develop them. As Hershey would say in his Nobel lecture on 12 December 1969, "Without knowing it, we were entering one of those happy periods during which each technical advance yields new information." By 1961 Hershey had discovered a way to extract both intact and fractured DNA. His method, with further refinements, continues to be used by researchers today.

Once he found the way to purify DNA and obtained controlled fractures of the molecule, Hershey went on to prove that T2 DNA was a single linear molecule. Because this conclusion seemed at odds with observations of another phage, T4, efforts to reconcile the seeming contradictions led to the discovery that phage DNA can be circular. Hershey's final 1965 proof of circular viral DNA was, in James Watson's words, "a bombshell result, because circular molecules had 2 years before been hypothesized as an intermediate in the integration of I [phage λ I] DNA molecules into bacterial chromosomes." Hershey helped show how viruses infect bacteria, and his finding has been instrumental in the later development of the recombinant DNA technique. Recombinant DNA has saved countless lives around the world by enabling the production of needed compounds, such as insulin, cheaply and in large quantities. Phage λ I has been widely used in recombinant DNA techniques.

In 1962 Hershey was appointed director of the genetics research unit at Cold Springs Harbor, where he remained until his retirement in 1973. He continued to characterize phage DNA along with colleagues in his lab. Experiments by Gisela Mosig in 1964 helped create a map of genetic markers of phage T4. Mosig credited Hershey's pioneering work when she said: "Everything we do now is really based on that knowledge [that DNA is the hereditary molecule]." In 1963 and 1968, respectively, his colleagues Fred Frankel and Rudy Werner investigated the intracellular structure of certain T phages and thus helped researchers gain insight into how phage recombination works.

Along with giving researchers insights into the structure and characteristics of phage DNA, Hershey developed laboratory methods for handling and measuring DNA. These methods were adopted by molecular biology and genetics researchers all over the world. In 1969 Hershey, Delbrück, and Luria were awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their contributions to molecular biology, an honor that many thought they should have received earlier. Hershey died of heart failure.

Although Hershey's work in the 1960s may not have been as earth shattering as his blender experiment in 1952, the swift pace of developments in the field of genetics, beginning with Watson and Crick's discovery of the double helix and continuing through recombinant DNA and beyond, started with this single experiment. Although Hershey is typically remembered for that one achievement, his continuing work and collaboration with others on the mechanisms of phage infection, both before and after 1952, were instrumental in laying the basis for vaccines for such diseases as polio and mumps and expanded our understanding of viral infections. Hershey was one of the founders of molecular biology, and during the 1960s he continued to advance this new discipline. His influence on the burgeoning sciences of genetics and molecular biology went beyond the lab. In addition to his own papers, he wrote review articles that educated others.

Biographies of Hershey include Franklin Stahl, We Can Sleep Later: Alfred D. Hershey and the Origins of Molecular Biology (2000). Articles on Hershey's life include John Cairns, "Alfred Hershey (1908–1997): One of the Founding Fathers of Molecular Biology," Nature 388 (1997), and A. Campbell and F. W. Stahl, "Alfred D. Hershey," Annual Review of Genetics 32 (1998): 1–6. Obituaries are in the New York Times (24 May 1997), Times (London) (2 June 1997), and Independent (London) (7 June 1997).

Adi R. Ferrara

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http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.