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Relates how, between 1954 and 1961, the biologist Seymour Benzer mapped the fine structure of the rII region of the genome of the bacterial virus known as phage T4. Benzer's accomplishments and discoveries are widely recognized as a tipping point in mid-twentieth-century molecular biology when the nature of the gene was recast in molecular terms. More often than any other individual, he is considered to have led geneticists from the classical gene into the molecular age.
Drawing on Benzer's remarkably complete record of his experiments, his correspondence, and published sources, Frederic Lawrence Holmes reconstructs how the former physicist initiated his work in phage biology, and how he accomplished his landmark investigation. The book follows Benzer's investigative pathway as his research unfolded and shifted, and as he adapted to opportunities or disappointments as they arose. The story of Benzer's creativity as a researcher is a fascinating story that also reveals intriguing aspects common to the scientific enterprise.