Originally published in "Genetics" Vol. 38 No. 1, January 1953 pp 51-64.
This paper describes one of Esther Lederberg's seminal contributions to the field of molecular biology. In this paper (on which her husband is co-author), she explores mechanisms of infection by lambda phage. E. Lederberg had previously discovered that lambda is not only lytic, but also lysogenic. That is, the virus integrates into the host cell genome without killing it; in certain conditions this “prophage” is excised from the genome, leading to production of viral particles and cell lysis. Before E. Lederberg’s work, this 2-part cycle had never been described before—now, lambda is a key model for studying other viruses [see Small Things Considered blog below] that exhibit similar lytic-lysogenic life cycles (e.g., herpes simplex virus).