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History of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology: Molecular Biology

A guide to resources on the history of molecular biology and biotechnology, including the history of the Human Genome Project (HGP). Covers archives and special collections; and oral history.

CSHL Designated Milestones in Microbiology Site

Interview with Waclaw Szybalski and John Kirby at CSHL on the occasion of its designation by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) as a “Milestones in Microbiology” site.


History of Molecular Biology

Molecular biology is the study of macromolecules and the macromolecular mechanisms that occur in living organisms. In contrast to biochemistry, which initially focused on proteins and enzymes, and only later turned to nucleic acids, molecular biology’s focus from the beginning was the structure and function of the gene: the molecular nature of the gene, gene replication, mutation, and expression.

Molecular biology originated in the 1930s and 1940s, and picked up momentum in the 1950s and 1960s. Although its direct predecessor was classical genetics, the emergence of molecular biology represented a convergence of work by geneticists, physicists, and structural chemists. In fact, Francis Crick identified himself as a molecular biologist as a way of shortening his previous description of himself as "a mixture of a crystallographer, biophysicist, biochemist, and geneticist.”