April 19, 2007
Thanks very much for keeping us up to date on your efforts to memorialize Ester's life and enormous scientific contributions. It is a very noble thing to do. We have been remodelling our own house and have not had the opportunity to look at the website. However, I wanted to respond to your question about replica plating and who really invented it. I think it will be very difficult to answer that question in a convincing way. That technique was developed before I ever knew the Lederbergs, but I do recollect a story that Ester related to me. Driving back from a meeting at Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island dealing with bacterial genetics, Josh and Esther discussed how one could demonstrate that an antibiotic was not a mutagen but merely selected for pre existing mutants already in the population of bacteria. From that discussion developed the idea that if one grew a large population of bacteria on a petri plate without the antibiotic and then transferred the population of cells to a plate with the antibiotic, any cells that were able to grow must have been resistant to the antibiotic before being transferred or else they would have been killed following the transfer. Thus, replica plating!
I do know that Esther in all likelihood was responsible for getting the technique to actually work. She emphasized to me how important it was to use a particular kind of Italian velvet (or was it velveteen actually), so in my own mind I believe she was the key person in taking the idea to actual practice. Other people who might be able to communicate more to this discussion would be Ann Ganesan at Stanford, Norton Zinder (Josh's first graduate student at Wisconsin), who has retired from Rockefeller University, and Gaylen Bradley, who was at the University of Virginia and was also an early graduate student. I have not seen him in many years, but assume he is still living.
I will be back in touch with you after I have reviewed the website.
All the best, and thank you for your efforts.
It should be noted that Esther always said that, in her opinion, Joshua Lederberg was a great scientist (omitting any statement about his personality). Esther never seemed to see a contradiction in claims made upon her research by others. Thus it should be clear that Esther M. Zimmer Lederberg's view of her own importance in creating a practical method of doing replica plating was not based on any jealousy of claims made by Joshua Lederberg.
It was good to hear from you. We have looked at Esther's website and you are doing a marvelous job. It brings back fond memories to see so many friends, some of whom are also no longer with us. Bruce Stocker was a good friend and a very kind person as well as being an excellent scientist. We are in the process of going through some old photographs and have found some of Esther. We will have copies made and send them to you.
I would be happy to be quoted on my recollections and belief on Esther's contribution to replica plating. I must correct you on one aspect however. I was not actually in the car along with Josh and Esther when they discussed replica plating. Rather, that was the story I recall Esther told me.
Everything is going well with us. I am in the midst of writing a grant to NSF which I am not very optimistic will be funded in this climate.
We leave at the end of the month for Martha's 50th class reunion at Oberlin and then we go to Europe on a tour of some of the major cities in Eastern Europe, including Warsaw, Prague, Budapest and Vienna. We've never gotten to these cities in all of our travels.
We look forward to hearing from you and seeing the Esther website continue to grow. You are doing a marvelous service to Esther's memory. Hopefully this effort will provide some of the recognition that she deserves and did not receive because of all too common misperceptions.
Thank you for taking on this difficult job.
Gene & Martha
Matthew -- I found these two pictures. Could we get them back.
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