In 1969 a group of young scientists at Harvard Medical School did something that made headlines for molecular genetics. They separated pure, clearly defined genes from a living organism, an achievement that would make it easier for other scientists to study how these minuscule units of inheritance go about their business. Up till this time, scientists had been hampered in their examination of the intricate cellular mechanisms because the genes they wished to work with were invariably mixed together with other genes.
The work of the Harvard researchers was quite complicated. In fact, one of them told a reporter rather facetiously, "Sometimes I don't even understand it myself." It might be likened to removing only tiny bits of, say, parsley from a vegetable soup.
The research revolved around a species of bacteria called Escherichia coli, or E. Coli, for short. E. coli is a common germ found in the intestines of humans and ani-