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Evelyn Witkin Collection

Identifier: EMW

Scope and Content

The Evelyn Witkin Collection spans the years 1944-2016.

The collection includes correspondence with scientific colleagues, her seminal work on the SOS response and a collection of Witkin's reprints, as well as copies of Microbial Genetics Bulletin, a periodical that Witkin edited.

It includes six series:

  1. Series 1: Biographical Information, 2002-2005
  2. Series 2: Correspondence, 1964-2006
  3. Series 3: Subject Files, 1944-1989
  4. Series 4: Reprints, 1946-2005
  5. Series 5: Photographs
  6. Series 6: Microbial Genetics Bulletin, 1950-1979


  • Creation: 1944 - 2016


Language of Materials


Access Restrictions

There are no restrictions to the collection. Access is given only by appointment, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Use Restriction

Archival materials must remain in the archival reading area. Item duplication is to be done by archivists. Fees are applied to copies made. Digital photography is permitted by users. Due to the very fragile nature of some materials in this collection, some are available through photocopies; others must be used under the supervision of an archivist.


Evelyn M. Witkin, born Evelyn Maisel on March 9, 1921, was an American geneticist whose research has been widely influential in the areas of DNA mutagenesis and DNA repair. A native New Yorker, Evelyn Witkin received her Bachelor’s degree from New York University in 1941 and her Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1947.

Witkin was interested in DNA mutagenesis and the nature of DNA repair mechanisms, and pursued research on bacterial DNA at the Carnegie Institution of Washington Department of Genetics in Cold Spring Harbor, NY with Milislav Demerec. Witkin continued her research at the C.I.W. Department of Genetics for ten years. During this time, Witkin’s research focused on how bacteria could repair DNA damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

A pioneer in the field of biological responses to DNA damage, Witkin made history in the mid-1940s with her first experiments. She identified a strain of E. coli bacteria known as B/r that was more resistant to radiation than the parental B strain. This was the first time mutations conferring resistance to radiation had been isolated.

Wilkin’s research since the completion of her PhD was based on DNA mutagenesis, and her mutagenesis work led to her work on DNA repair. By characterizing the phenotypes of mutagenized E. coli, she and colleague Miroslav Radman (at the time a post-doctoral student at Harvard) detailed the SOS response to UV radiation in bacteria in the early 1970s. She continued to work on the mechanism of the SOS response until she retired in 1991. The SOS response to DNA damage was a seminal discovery because it was the first coordinated stress response to be elucidated.

Witkin was elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1977. At the time, she was one of the few women elected to the Academy. She was also elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1980, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. She was awarded the 2000 Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal and her contributions to science have been recognized by the United States government when she was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2002.

Witkin died at the age of 102 on July 8, 2023. She is survived by her son, Joseph Witkin, and four grandchildren.


8 Boxes


The collection includes correspondence with scientific colleagues, her seminal work on the SOS response, and a collection of Witkin's reprints, as well as copies of Microbial Genetics Bulletin, a periodical that Witkin edited.


The collection was donated by Evelyn Witkin in 2010. The accession no. is 2010-103. It was accessioned on 12/21/2010.

Related Collections

Related collections within Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Library and Archives include the Barbara McClintock Collection, Carnegie Institution of Washington materials, and the James D. Watson Collection.


This collection was processed with funding provided by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) Basic Processing Grant.

Evelyn Witkin Collection
Finding Aid Prepared by Clare Clark. Updated in 2023 by Kate Pigliacelli.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Archives Repository

Library & Archives
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
One Bungtown Rd
Cold Spring Harbor NY 11724 USA