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Mark Ptashne Collection

Identifier: MSP

Scope and Contents

The Mark Ptashne Collection contains two separate correspondence series. The first contains correspondence with Dr. George Klein of the Karolinska Institute, the renowned microbiologist, philosopher, and author. The second series contains correspondence with over one hundred scientists, including Nobel laureates Francis Crick, Sydney Brenner, and Walter Gilbert. This series also contains clippings, photographs, essays, and reports.

The Ptashne-Klein materials cover a wide range of subjects, including philosophical discussions of Nietzsche, human relationships, art, music, science, books, the Holocaust and their shared Jewish roots. Within this collection, Klein also shared with Ptashne correspondence with American neuroscientist and writer Charles M. Fair, David Baltimore, Robert Gallo, Kary Mullis, Benno Muller Hill, and Robin Weis. Subjects of this correspondence include discussions of scientific ethics, research, HIV/AIDs, and the Daniel Carleton Gajdusek controversy. At one point, Klein wished to publish a book of correspondence. In 1998, Ptashne requested copies of his correspondence with Klein that had been placed in the Royal Archives. These are included in this collection.

The scientific correspondence contains discussion of scientific fraud, HIV/AIDs, Ptashne’s books "A Genetic Switch" and "Genes and Signals," and the Lasker award. Additionally, it also contains Ptashne’s political work, such as his testimony at the Cambridge City council hearings on recombinant DNA and the Cultural Congress in 1968 Havana, Cuba. Grant applications and patents related to Interferon are also included.

The collection is ordered into nine series:

  1. Biographical Files, 1968-2016
  2. Correspondence: George Klein, 1967-2006
  3. Correspondence: Other, 1978-2011
  4. Subject Files, 1980-2001
  5. Lectures, Talks, Publications, 1985-2001
  6. Grants, 1975-1992
  7. Patents, 1997-2001
  8. Photographs, 1985-2003
  9. Laboratory Binders, 1982-2017


  • Creation: 1967 - 2019


Conditions Governing Access

Some materials are restricted due to presence of Social Security numbers. Access is given by apppointment 8:00a.m. to 4:45p.m. Monday through Friday.

Conditions Governing Use

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.

Biographical / Historical

Mark Ptashne, born in Chicago on June 5, 1940, is a molecular biologist who has focused on gene regulation throughout his career. He earned his undergraduate degree at Reed College in Portland, Oregon in 1961 and his PhD from Harvard in 1968, afterwards joining the Harvard faculty. In 1971, he was made a professor. In 1980 he became the Chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and in 1993 he was awarded an endowed chair. He left Harvard in 1997 for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, where he is currently the Ludwig Chair of Molecular Biology.

Ptashne’s work has been the elucidation of the molecular mechanisms of the lytic and lysogenic life cycles of bacteriophage lambda. He was the first scientist to demonstrate bindings between protein and DNA, and is the originator of the “ball and stick” model of transcription factor functions. This demonstrates how bacteria and yeast typically consist of regions that mediate DNA binding and interaction with transcriptional activators or repressors.

In addition to his scientific work with bacteriophage lambda and gene regulation, Ptashne also co-founded Genetics Institute, Inc. with Thomas Maniatis, at the time considered a controversial move by a Harvard scientist.

He holds multiple awards for his work, including the 1985 Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University, the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 1997, and the Massry Prize from the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California in 1998. He has written multiple books, including “Gene and Signals” and “A Genetic Switch.”


19 Boxes (18 Archival Document Boxes, 1 Banker Box) : Paper, negatives, prints ; 10" X 12" X 5" Document boxes

Language of Materials



This collction was given to the CSHL Libray and Archives by Dr. Ptashne in three accessions: October 2018, accession number 2018_001_MSP; June 2019, accession number 2019_001_MSP; and 2023, accession number 2023-19.

Cultural context


Mark Ptashne Collection, 1967-2006
In Progress
Clare Clark.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

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