The Molecular Vision of Life

The Molecular Vision of Life : Caltech, The Rockefeller Foundation, and the Rise of the New Biology

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Molecular biology as a distinct scientific discipline had its origins in chemistry and physical biochemistry, gradually emerging in the period between 1930 and the elucidation of DNA in the mid 1950s. Today this field has risen to a dominant position, and with its focus on deciphering genetic structure, it has endowed scientists with unprecedented power over life. In this fascinating study, however, Lily Kay argues that molecular biology did not "evolve" in a random fashion but, rather, was the result of systematic efforts by key scientists and their supporting foundations to direct the development of biological research toward a preconceived vision of science and society. The author traces and analyses the conceptual roots of molecular biology and the social matrix in which it was developed, focusing on the role of leading researchers headquartered at Caltech, and on the Rockefeller Foundation's sponsorship of the new science.
The study thus explores a number of vital, sometimes controversial topics, among them the role of private power centres in shaping the scientific agenda, the political aspects of "pure" research, and how genetic engineering was envisioned by some as a potential tool for social intervention. This book will be of special interest to all molecular biologists, as well as historians and sociologists of science. However the story told has broad significance, and it is written in an accessible, nontechnical manner, fully understandable to general readers.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 314 pages
  • 152.9 x 232.4 x 19.6mm | 577.27g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 0195111435
  • 9780195111439
  • 539,999

Review quote

the book has the great merit to give insight in the expectation of young American scientists and in what troubles their minds! * Cellular and Molecular Biology, vol.43, no.5, July 1997 *
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About Lily E. Kay

Lily E. Kay received a Ph.D. in the history of science from the Johns Hopkins University in 1987, and was a recipient of a Smithsonian Fellowship at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. in 1984. She was an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in bibliography at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, and has taught at the University of Chicago. Since 1989 she has been an assistant professor of history of science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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Back cover copy

The organizational history of Caltech is the loom on which Kay has woven an intricate fabric of the molecular vision of life.
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Table of contents

1. "Social Control:" the Rockefeller Foundation's Agenda in the Human Sciences, 1913-1933 ; 2. The Technological Frontier: Southern California and the Emergence of Life Science at Caltech ; 3. Visions and Realitites: The Biology Division in the Morgan Era ; Interlude 1 - The Protein Paradigm ; 4. From Flies to Molecules: Physiological Genetics in the Morgan Era ; 5. A Convergence of Goals: From Physical Chemistry to Bio-Organic Chemistry ; 6. The Spoils of War: Immunochemistry and Serological Genetics, 1940-1945 ; 7. Microorganisms and Macromanagement: Beadle's Return to Caltech ; 8. The Molecular Empire
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Rating details

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