Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Joshua Lederberg

 

Joshua Lederberg died last Saturday (Feb. 2, 2008). In his honor, John Dennehy has selected one of Lederberg's famous papers as This Week's Citation Classic: Joshua Lederberg.

I think it's too bad that our current generation of students is growing up without being sufficiently aware of the fundamental principles of biochemistry and molecular biology that were worked out in bacteria and bacteriophage.

UPDATE: [Loss of a giant: Joshua Lederberg]


2 comments :

  1. Well, when I was teaching I always did start there (my molecular half of the sophomore genetics course started with the basics of DNA structure followed by Meselson-Stahl and Okazaki, and when introducing the genetic code I always included considerable information about the experiments that unraveled it, and even mentioned previous false but instructive starts like Crick's comma-free code; my upper-level molecular genetics course spent a lot of time on lac and lambda before moving on to eukaryotic gene regulation). And I'd still do it that way if I were teaching now.

    The nature of the the subject- the fact that its historical development began with the uncovering, in the simplest available systems, of principles that apply to everything from "E. coli to elephants"- makes it ideally suited to such a historical approach. I can't see why anyone would want to, for example, tackle eukaryotic gene regulation before their students had a sound grasp of the many subtleties of lambda.
    And focusing on classic experiments helps to make it more likely that students will come away with a grasp of how science advances instead of having merely memorized a pile of facts (I always was very conscious of the role of the genetics course as the first biology course most students had encountered that would do that).

    Of course a lot of premeds would have been much happier if I'd only asked for the rote memorization! Which might in fact help to explain why fewer people are teaching that way now, if that is indeed the case. Even the genetics course I used to co-teach (with the classical / population half having been taught by a very smart theoretical population biologist who did his Ph.D. with Lewontin) has long since been eliminated by the department I taught in- perish the thought that the little dears should actually be made to think.

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  2. I think it's too bad that our current generation of students is growing up without being sufficiently aware of the fundamental principles of biochemistry and molecular biology that were worked out in bacteria and bacteriophage.

    Not if I can do anything about it!

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