Medical Definition of Hershey-Chase experiment

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Hershey-Chase experiment: An extraordinarily important experiment in 1952 that helped to convince the world that DNA was the genetic material. Alfred Hershey (1908-1997) and his assistant Martha Chase (1923-2003) at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory showed that the DNA, not the protein, of the phage virus contains the phage genes. After a phage particle attaches to a bacterium, its DNA enters through a tiny hole while its protein coat remains outside. Key to the success of the experiment was showing that viral infection was unaffected by violent agitation in a kitchen blender (a Waring Blendor) which removed the empty viral protein shells from the bacterial surface. The Hershey-Chase experiment became known as the "blender experiment."

Alfred D. Hershey won a Nobel Prize for his insights into the nature of viruses in 1969, along with Max Delbruck and Salvador Luria. In a 1997 memoriam to Hersey, James Watson wrote that "the Hershey-Chase experiment had a much broader impact than most confirmatory announcements and made me ever more certain that finding the three-dimensional structure of DNA was biology's next important objective. The finding of the double helix by Francis Crick and me came only 11 months after my receipt of a long Hershey letter describing his blender experiment results."

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Last Editorial Review: 1/25/2017

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