The Discovery of Bacteria Sexes
Watson describes the early discover that bacteria exchange genes, which is mistaken for bacterial sex.
I was preoccupied with sex, but not of a type that needed encouragement. The mating habits of bacteria were admittedly a unique conversation pieceçabsolutely no one in his and Odile's social circle would guess bacteria had sex lives. On the other hand, working out how they did it was best left to minor minds. Rumors of male and female bacteria were floating about at Royaumont, but not until early in September, when I attended a small meeting on microbial genetics at Pallanza, did I get the facts from the horse's mouth. There, Cavalli-Sforza and Bill Hayes talked about the experiments by which they and Joshua Lederberg had just established the existence of two discrete bacterial sexes.
Bill's appearance was the sleeper of the three-day gathering: before his talk no one except Cavalli-Sforza knew he existed. As soon as he had finished his unassuming re port, however, everyone in the audience knew that a bombshell had exploded in the world of Joshua Lederberg. In I946 Joshua, then only twenty, burst upon the biological world by announcing that bacteria mated and showed genetic recombination. Since then he had carried out such a prodigious number of pretty experiments that virtually no one except Cavalli dared to work in the same field. Hearing Joshua give Rabelaisian nonstop talks of three to five hours made it all too clear that he was an enfant terrible. Moreover, there was his godlike quality of each year expanding in size, perhaps eventually to fill the universe.