A Hidden Legacy: The Life and Work of Esther Zimmer Lederberg

ISBN : 9780197531679

Thomas E. Schindler
176 Pages
162 x 240 mm
Pub date
Sep 2021
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It's time to honor the significant scientific contributions of Esther Zimmer Lederberg. In A Hidden Legacy, Thomas E. Schindler shares the story of this remarkable microbiologist and offers insight into why her legacy has been obscured for so long. In the mid-20th century, microbiologist Esther Zimmer Lederberg and her then-husband, Joshua Lederberg, made a series of remarkable discoveries that contributed to the biochemical understanding of the gene. Together, they laid the foundation for molecular biology and the field of bacterial genetics. In 1958, he alone was awarded the Nobel Prize for their work. Esther's ingenuity was largely ignored and undervalued by the Nobel committee and has continued to be obscured by historians of science. In this book, Thomas E. Schindler shares many of Esther's hidden scientific contributions and her role in the discoveries that launched her then-husband's celebrated career. A Hidden Legacy delves into how, as a couple, the Lederbergs established a new field of bacterial genetics in the decade leading up to the discovery of the DNA double helix. Their impressive series of achievements includes the discovery of: bacteriophage and the first plasmid, known as the F-factor; how viruses carry bacterial genes between bacteria; and fundamental properties of bacterial sex. Schindler explains how Esther's research revealed unique features of bacterial sex that are now essential to our understanding of molecular biology and evolution. A magnificent story of a remarkable scientist, A Hidden Legacy takes readers through the process that scrambled the tree of life and offers insight into the role Esther played in uncovering these secretes of bacterial and viral genes.


Chapter 1: An Abiding Affection
Chapter 2: The Pathway to Bacterial Genetics
Chapter 3: Graduate School: Mentored by the Future Nobel Laureates, George Beadle and Edward Tatum
Chapter 4: The Anomaly of Bacterial Genetics
Chapter 5: Love in the Laboratory: A Marriage of Two Prodigies
Chapter 6: Strange Genetics: Bacterial Genes Move Sideways
Chapter 7: Clarifying the Unique Features of Bacterial Sex
Chapter 8: Replica Plating: Esther Repurposes Her Compact Makeup Sponge
Chapter 9: The Matilda Effect: Joshua Lederberg's Brilliance Obscured His Wife's Reputation
Chapter 10: What She Did for Love: Demoted from Research Collaborator to Nobel Wife
Chapter 11: Behind the Laboratory Doors: For Over One Hundred Years of Science, Women Participated in Obscurity
Chapter 12: Antibiotic Resistance, the Horrendous Consequences of Bacterial Sex
Chapter 13: The Lederbergs' Stanford Years, 1959-1976: Growing Apart, the Collaborative Couple Divorce
Chapter 14: The Central Importance of E. coli and &lambda
Phage in the New Molecular Biology
Chapter 15: Making Music and a New Life
Epilogue: A New Tree of Life and a New Concept for the Gene

About the author: 

Thomas E. Schindler is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Illinois-Chicago. After earning his PhD in microbiology and immunology, he conducted post-doctoral research at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He worked in research and development for Xytronyx, Inc., a biotechnology company, for eight years before pursuing a career as a high school chemistry teacher in Falls Village, Connecticut. Today, he is an accomplished science writer who has devoted several years to researching and writing about the neglected heroine of bacterial genetics, Esther Zimmer Lederberg.

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