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Sol Spiegelman Papers

 Collection
Identifier: MS C 561

Abstract

Sol Spiegelman (1914-1983) was an American microbiologist who made several important contributions in the fields of microbial genetics and cancer research, particularly the discovery of RNA/DNA hybridization and the first synthesis of an infectious nucleic acid. Biographical material, correspondence, laboratory notebooks, published and unpublished writings, academic course material, subject files, memoranda, and illustrations document Sol Spiegelman's professional career as a microbiologist.

Dates

  • 1929-1983

Extent

114.21 Linear Feet (96 boxes)

Abstract

Sol Spiegelman (1914-1983) was an American microbiologist who made several important contributions in the fields of microbial genetics and cancer research, particularly the discovery of RNA/DNA hybridization and the first synthesis of an infectious nucleic acid. Biographical material, correspondence, laboratory notebooks, published and unpublished writings, academic course material, subject files, memoranda, and illustrations document Sol Spiegelman's professional career as a microbiologist.

Physical Location

Materials stored onsite. History of Medicine Division. National Library of Medicine

Restrictions

Portions of the collection are restricted according to HMD's Access to Health Information of Individuals policy. Contact the Reference Staff for information regarding access. For access to the policy and application form, please visit https://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/manuscripts/phi.pdf.

Copyright and Re-use Information

Donor's copyrights were transferred to the public domain. Archival collections often contain mixed copyrights; while NLM is the owner of the physical items, permission to examine collection materials is not an authorization to publish. These materials are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. It is the user's responsibility to research and understand any applicable copyright and re-publication rights not allowed by fair use. NLM does not grant permissions to publish.

Privacy Information

Archives and manuscript collections may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in any collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications for which the National Library of Medicine assumes no responsibility.

Biographical Note

Sol Spiegelman was born on December 14, 1914 in Brooklyn, New York, to Max Spiegelman, a teacher of oriental languages and religion at a Hebrew theological seminary, and his wife Eva. A prolific and dedicated researcher, Sol Spiegelman made several important contributions in the fields of microbial genetics and cancer research.

Spiegelman took an interest in biology at an early age. In 1933 he attended the College of the City of New York (CCNY) majoring in biology; however, he found his biology courses so disappointing he changed his major and spent most of his undergraduate years studying mathematics and physics. Spiegleman took a year off from college to accept a research position at the Richard Morton Koster Research Laboratory of Crown Heights Hospital in Brooklyn, New York. During his tenure at the research laboratory he published his first paper entitled, "A Rapid Method for the Study of Genetics in Large Populations." After returning to CCNY and completing his degree, Spiegelman began his graduate education at Columbia University under the direction of Dr. H. B. Steinbach, majoring in cellular physiology with a minor in mathematics. He followed Dr. Steinbach to Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where he continued to pursue his Ph.D. Upon completion of his doctorate in 1944, Spiegelman stayed on at Washington University and began his teaching career, gaining a reputation as a charming and skilled lecturer of bacteriology. He wrote prolifically and produced nineteen articles by the time he received his Ph. D. from Washington University.

After earning his Ph.D., Spiegelman began investigating how cells formed their enzymes. He and his colleagues demonstrated that changes or alterations in enzymes could occur without an accompanying mutation in the genes that control them. Based on this, Spiegelman suggested that abnormalities in enzymes occurred when critical fractions of genes were inappropriately activated or deactivated. Today this phenomenon is known as switching a gene on or off, and has had serious implications in the fight against cancer. Spiegelman's data raised the possibility that the wild multiplication of cells which characterized cancer might be attributed to an (uncontrollable or unruly) mechanism rather than a genetic mutation.

In 1949, Spiegelman became Professor of Microbiology at the University of Illinois. It was there in the mid-1950s that he discovered the technique of RNA/DNA hybridization, which enabled the combination of viral DNA and viral RNA. This new method led to the discovery that only one strand of a DNA double helix was responsible for transmitting genetic information. RNA/DNA hybridization became an extremely important technology in the field of molecular biology, and is a powerful tool in the modern analyses of the genome.

Until the mid-1960s, the central dogma of microbiology held that genetic information could only be transferred from DNA to RNA in the course of cellular reproduction; transference in the opposite direction was considered impossible. This raised questions concerning how RNA viruses are able to reproduce in cells dominated by DNA. Spiegelman's investigations into this quandary led to his discovery in 1963 of an enzyme which could recognize viral RNA among all other bacterial RNA within a cell. The unique quality exhibited by the newly discovered enzyme came to be known as template specificity. Spiegelman was soon able to use the RNA replicating enzyme, or RNA replicase, to manufacture RNA in test tubes. The man-made RNA proved to be as potent and infectious as its naturally-occurring counterpart. Spiegelman's work with RNA replicase made it possible to observe Darwinian selection at the molecular level, and expanded the biological community's understanding of viruses in general.

In 1969 Spiegelman left the University of Illinois to join the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, New York, where he served as a Professor of Human Genetics and Development and as the Director of the Institute of Cancer Research. This move reflected Spiegelman's decision to focus his investigations fully on the problem of cancer. During the course of his RNA experiments he developed a technique that made it possible to test cancerous tissue for the presence of a virus; this laid the groundwork for his attempts to isolate a link between cancer and viral infections. Spiegelman demonstrated that RNA in a virus known to cause mammary tumors in mice was similar to sequences found in human breast cancer, which fueled his efforts to develop a clinically useful test for breast cancer in humans. In 1974 his career research was awarded the top American prize, the Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research.

Columbia honored Spiegelman by naming him University Professor in 1975, and made him Director of its Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1980. He was still actively involved in cancer research at Columbia when he died on January 20, 1983.

Brief Chronology

1914
Born December 14 in New York City to Max and Eva Spiegelman
1933-39
Attends City College of New York, with major in mathematics and physics
1936-37
Interrupts undergraduate schooling to accept a research position at the Richard Morton Koster Research Laboratory, Crown Heights Hospital, in Brooklyn, New York; publishes first paper
1940-42
Attends graduate school at Columbia University with a major in cellular physiology and a minor in mathematics, under Dr. H. B. Steinbach
1942-44
Completes Ph.D. at Washington University at St. Louis; also lectured in Physics and Applied Mathematics
1945-46
Instructor in Bacteriology, Washington University School of Medicine
1946-48
Assistant Professor in Bacteriology, Washington University School of Medicine
1948-49
Special Fellow, U.S. Public Health Service, University of Minnesota
1949-69
Professor of Microbiology, University of Illinois
1964-69
Member of Center for Advanced Study, University of Illinois
1965
Elected to the National Academy of Sciences
1966
Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
1969
Director of the Institute of Cancer Research and Professor of Human Genetics and Development in the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University
1974
Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research
1975
University Professor, Columbia University
1980
Director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University.
1983
Dies January 21 following a short illness

Collection Summary

Biographical material, correspondence, laboratory notebooks, published and unpublished writings, academic course material, subject files, memoranda, and photographic media (113.5 linear feet; 1929-1983) document Sol Spiegelman's professional career as a microbiologist.

Spiegelman collected publicity material generated by his experiments. Much of this information can be found in Series 1: Personal and Biographical, which contains a wealth of news articles about his achievements. It also provides biographical notes, manuscripts and extensive obituaries collected shortly after his death. His many awards and honors are documented in Series 5: Professional Activities in the Awards and Honors sub-series. A significant component of the collection is Spiegelman's professional correspondence files, dating from the 1940s until his death in 1983 (Series 2). Much of this correspondence illustrates Spiegelman's active involvement in the scientific community, as well as the close personal relationships he developed with many of his colleagues.

Laboratory Notes and Notebooks comprise nearly fifty percent of the collection, which are located in Series 3. The series contains multi-volume laboratory notebooks from 1937 to 1976 and are authored by Spiegelman and his laboratory colleagues. The notebooks consist of the protocols, raw data, and conclusions drawn from experiments in enzyme synthesis, DNA-RNA hybridization, viral RNA, and cancerous tumors. The most extensive group of notebooks belonged to Spiegelman and covers a variety of experiments from the first two decades of his career. The second largest group of notebooks was kept by Dr. Ichiro Haruna as he worked with Spiegelman from 1962 to 1966 in the discovery of the RNA-replicating enzyme in viruses.

Copies of Spiegelman's reprints encompassing his entire career can be found in Series 4: Writings. The series contains articles about some of his most renowned experiments including RNA-DNA hybridization and explorations in the causes of human breast cancer. The majority of these articles appear in eight bound volumes entitled "Spiegelman's Collected Reprints."

Documents concerning Spiegelman's role as an educator can be found in Series 6: Academic Career. The series includes teaching materials in several subjects dating primarily from his time at the University of Illinois. Records of the many curricula and educational issues committees with which Spiegelman was involved can be found in the Committees sub-series of Series 5: Professional Activities.

Provenance

Gift of American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming, 2005; ACC 2005-011

Alternate Forms Available

Portions of the Collection have been digitized and are available at: https://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/.

General

Processed by
Chip Calhoun, Kim Dixon, Erica Haakensen
Processing Completed
June 2006
Encoded by
Chip Calhoun, Kim Dixon, Erica Haakensen

Language of Materials

Collection materials primarily in English

Title
Finding Aid to the Sol Spiegelman Papers, 1929-1983
Status
Unverified Partial Draft
Author
Chip Calhoun, Kim Dixon, Erica Haakensen
Date
June 2006
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latn
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English
Edition statement
1.0

Collecting Area Details

Part of the Archives and Modern Manuscripts Collection Collecting Area

Contact:
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