From Virus Research to Molecular Biology: Tobacco Mosaic Virus in Germany, 1936-1956

Journal of the History of Biology 37 (2):259 - 301 (2004)
Abstract
In 1937, a group of researchers in Nazi Germany began investigating tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) with the hope of using the virus as a model system for understanding gene behavior in higher organisms. They soon developed a creative and interdisciplinary work style and were able to continue their research in the postwar era, when they made significant contributions to the history of molecular biology. This group is significant for two major reasons. First, it provides an example of how researchers were able to produce excellent scientific research in the midst of dictatorship and war. Coupled with the group's ongoing success in postwar Germany, the German TMV investigators provide a dramatic example of how scientific communities deal with adversity as well as rapid political and social change. Second, since the researchers focused heavily (though not exclusively) on TMV, their story allows us to analyze how an experimental system other than phage contributed to the emergence of molecular biology.
Keywords Adolf Butenandt  Germany  history  molecular biology  National Socialism  tobacco mosaic virus
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