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About Genentech Center for the History of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology


The Genentech Center for the History of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology was established in 2006 with a gift of $2.5 million from Genentech, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the company’s founding. It is part of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Archives, which was created in 1972.

The Genentech Center focuses on documenting the basic scientific research that underpinned the development of molecular biology and biotechnology. This research, carried out initially in academic laboratories, led to the development of recombinant DNA techniques, which in turn stimulated entrepreneurial scientists to create biotechnology companies.

The mission of the Genentech Center is to identify, acquire, preserve, digitize, and promote the original papers, correspondence, and research material of the individuals and institutions that were crucial to the development of molecular biology and biotechnology.

The Center also conducts oral history interviews, the video recordings of which preserve the images and voices of the scientists who played key roles in the development of molecular biology and biotechnology.

The specific areas of research and relevant Genentech Center collections are:

Plant biology

Foundations of agricultural genetics, maize cytogenetics, fundamental mechanisms in plant development and genetics, development of recombinant DNA techniques for plants


The nature of genetic material, the genetic code, mutations, protein synthesis, genetic recombination, genetic mapping, genetic transduction, chromosome visualization, DNA separation and visualization, RNA splicing, RNAi, cloning, and DNA replication


Identification and cloning of cancer-causing genes, DNA and RNA tumor viruses, genetic studies of human cancers, and biochemical studies (pathways, receptors, etc.)

Quantitative biology

Bacterial genetics, physiological and genetic effects of radiation (X-ray mutagenesis)


Neural development using C. elegans as a model organism; molecular genetics of neurodegenerative disorders, including prion diseases; molecular and genetic studies of neural function, including memory, sensory processing, cognition, and cognitive disorders.

The Center’s holdings include collections of papers of Sydney Brenner, Elof Carlson, Walter Gilbert, Hermann J. Muller, Bruce Wallace, Charles Weissmann, Charles Yanofsky, and Norton Zinder.

The Center also holds a collection of rare scientific reprints collected between 1868 and 1960 by Charles B. Davenport and Milislav Demerec; these number over 88,000 reprints. The Oral History Collection, which consists of more than 175 video interviews with pioneers and prominent contemporary scientists in molecular biology and biotechnology, is also a part of the Genentech Center.

The Genentech Center and the CSHL Archives are housed in the Carnegie Building, originally the Station for Experimental Evolution (1904). Recently renovated and expanded, this lovely building offers the ideal environment for study, research, and writing. It also offers bright, spacious meeting and conference space, available by reservation.

Scholars worldwide have access to Genentech Center materials through the CSHL Archives’ large and ongoing commitment to preservation and digitization. Resources include the CSHL Digital Collections Database, Oral History Collection, Symposia, and Memory Board.

Activities of the Genentech Center

  • Maintain current awareness of research activities and scholarship in the history/social role of molecular biology and biotechnology, through journals, magazines, newsletters, listservs, websites, and other sources.
  • Network with scientists, researchers, scholars, archivists, and others by participating in professional societies, attending meetings and conferences, and other activities. Use these activities to identify potential new acquisitions.
  • Build relationships with scientists, heirs of scientists, organizations, and institutions that hold records relevant to the history and social role of molecular biology and biotechnology.
  • Develop appropriate policies to guide the acquisition process and find appropriate repositories for collections that are not a close fit with the Center’s or the CSHL Archives’ collections.
  • Build endowment to support acquisitions.
  • Conduct oral history interviews with pioneers and prominent contemporary scientists in molecular biology and biotechnology.
  • Apply for grants and seek other funding to support collection processing and preservation—from inventorying through cataloging and digitizing.
  • Develop appropriate policies to guide the preservation of collections and adapt and expand the facility as needed to provide appropriate conditions for preservation of collections.
  • Create finding aids, online and physical exhibitions, issue press releases, write articles, make presentations, meet with community groups, hold workshops/meetings, and undertake other activates to promote the collections to scholars, students, and the general public.
  • Continue digitization project, which started in 2004
  • Develop systems and appropriate policies to enable worldwide access to the collections. Such systems may include websites, databases, digital repositories, DVDs, books, and indexes.