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.
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.”
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) has been a key site in the development of molecular biology. Starting in 1904 with the establishment of the Carnegie Institution of Washington's Station for Experimental Evolution (later renamed the Department of Genetics) at Cold Spring Harbor, and continuing with the work of scientists such as Hermann J. Muller, Max Delbruck, Salvador E. Luria, and Alfred D. Hershey, many key discoveries relating to the structure and function of the gene have been made at CSHL.