Witkin provides a historical perspective on how working at Cold Spring Harbor (CSH) shaped her scientific career and led to the discovery of the SOS DNA damage response in bacteria. At CSH she worked with the pioneers of bacterial genetics, at a time when there was a major discovery every other week. As a PhD student Witkin observed that some bacteria were able to survive high doses of UV radiation. She speculated that these bacteria may have a mechanism to repair DNA making them UV resistant. These revolutionary ideas gave birth to the discovery that cells have a mechanism to repair DNA damage, the SOS response.
Evelyn Witkin earned her BA in zoology from NYU in 1941 and started her graduate studies at Columbia University where she joined Dr. Theodosius Dobzhansky’s laboratory. She was interested in studying Drosophila genetics, but her interests changed when she realized that bacteria also have genes. She went to CSH in the summer of 1944 to start her… Continue Reading