Search Archives and Manuscripts

Reference PP/GRW
See the rest of this archive
Level Collection
Extent 2 boxes
Title Wyatt, Gerard R. (1925-)
Date 1949-1955
Box Number 1-2
Ordering Instructions This archive record describes a grouping of orderable items: to order any of them for consultation, order copies or view them if they have been digitised, navigate down the archive hierarchy to Item level.
Name Wyatt, Gerard R.,1925-.
Description Laboratory notebooks, correspondence and other papers of Gerard R. Wyatt, related to his research on nucleic acids, including DNA, between 1949 and 1955.
Arrangement

The collection is divided into sections as follows:

A: Laboratory notebooks, in chronological order.

B: Files, including correspondence with Seymour Cohen.

Historical Background

Gerard Wyatt was born in the U.S. in 1925 and from 1935 settled in Canada. From 1947 to 1950 he was a research student at the Molteno Institute, Cambridge, where (influenced by Roy Markham) he undertook quantative base analyses of DNA as his Ph.D. research. He identified 5-methylcytosine as a component of eukaryotic DNAs and did paper chromatography analyses that indicated equality of A and T and of G and C. This work was carried out at the same time that Erwin Chargaff's lab was reaching similar conclusions, but Wyatt's work was felt to use better techniques.

After moving to the Canadian government Laboratory of Insect Pathology in Sault-Ste.Marie, Wyatt followed up this work with the identification, together with Seymour Cohen, of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine in T-even phage DNA, and analyses of a set of baculoviruses that showed the base pairing particularly clearly. (Seymour Cohen was one of a group of bacteriophage scientists at Cold Spring Harbor laboratory in the 1940s and 1950s, headed by Max Delbrück and also including Salva Luria and Al Hershey; correspondence between Cohen - then in Philadelphia - and Wyatt forms part of the Wyatt papers.) According to a paper by A. Marshak (PNAS 37, 299, 1951), the T2, T4 and T6 group of phages lacked cytosine, which would have made the double-helix model impossible: Wyatt's demonstration that they contained the modified form 5-hydroxymethylcytosine and that this was in equal quantities to guanine thus removed an obstacle to the double-helix model.

Wyatt published several articles drawing upon this work:

Nature 166, 237 (1950); Biochemical Journal 48, 581 and 584 (1951); Biochemical Journal 49, 144 (1951); Journal of General Physiology 36, 210 (1952); Nature 170, 1072 (1952); Biochemical Journal 55, 774 (1953). The Journal of General Physiology paper is cited in Watson and Crick's April 1953 Nature article proposing the double-helix structure of DNA, and James Watson cites Wyatt's work in The Double Helix (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1968), p.170. The accounts of DNA discovery by Robert Olby (The path to the double helix: the discovery of DNA (New York: Dover Publications, 1994)) and Horace Judson (The eighth day of creation: makers of the revolution in biology (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979)) discuss Wyatt's contribution.

Wyatt did not follow up his DNA research in his career, concentrating instead on the biochemistry of insects.

Acquisition Details Presented to the Wellcome Library by Professor Wyatt, May 2003.
Accession Number 1163
Digitised Yes
Access Status Open
Access Conditions The papers are available subject to the usual conditions of access to Archives and Manuscripts material. A digitised copy is available to view via the online catalogue on the Wellcome Library website.
Reproduction Conditions Images are supplied for private research only at the Archivist's discretion. Please note that material may be unsuitable for copying on conservation grounds. Researchers who wish to publish material must seek copyright permission from the copyright owner.
Copies A digitised copy is held by the Wellcome Library as part of Codebreakers: Makers of Modern Genetics.
Related Material

In the Wellcome Library:

The papers of Francis Crick (PP/CRI) are a key resource on the search for the structure of DNA.

Relevant Publications

Wyatt published several articles drawing upon this work:

Nature 166, 237 (1950); Biochemical Journal 48, 581 and 584 (1951); Biochemical Journal 49, 144 (1951); Journal of General Physiology 36, 210 (1952); Nature 170, 1072 (1952); Biochemical Journal 55, 774 (1953).

Subject Genetics
Subject Genes
Subject DNA
MaterialType Archives - Non-digital
System No. dbab0015-372a-4cdb-a4cf-bc14bf999124