Paul Doty on Molecular Biology at Harvard in the 1950s
  Paul Doty     Biography    
Recorded: 22 Jul 2003

Well, it was a pretty empty set. There was hardly anyone here in 1955 who was engaged. And there was the Edwin Cohn laboratory on protein fractionation at the medical school. And one or two odd people analyzing nucleic acid base composition. But that was about all. So it was a clean slate.

Alfred Tissieres came and that was ’58 and he was an important member for several years. And he—and he started by finding good research students. And I think Gilbert came only in ’63 or so like that. Then Mark Ptashne and so on and so he built it up, but it was gradual.

Paul Doty (1920-2011), biophysical chemist and activist was an emeritus professor at Harvard University in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and in the Kennedy School of Government. He was also founder of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and the Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard. Experimenting with isotope separation as a graduate student at Columbia University, he became an advocate for nuclear war prevention. Subsequently, he served as a consultant to the President’s Science Advisory Committee and as a member of the President’s Arms Control Advisory Group.

Doty’s scientific research is focused on elucidating the structure and function of large molecules by optical methods. Responsible for hybridizing single strands of DNA to reform an active double-stranded molecule, his laboratory work helped provide the basis for DNA recombination.

Doty met Jim in 1952 in Cambridge. Four years later he had encouraged Jim to join the Harvard Faculty. Their combined insight and innovation was crucial in determining the fate of the newly created molecular biology department. Doty remained on the Harvard Faculty for over forty-two years.