Bernard D. Davis
Davis (1916-1994) A.B., Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts, M.D., Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, was the Chair of the Department of Bacteriology and Immunology from 1957-1968 and the Adele Lehman Professor of Bacterial Physiology, a subunit of the Department of Bacteriology and Immunology, from 1968-1984, both at Harvard Medical School. He was a microbiologist who focused throughout his career on biochemical and genetic mutations, microbial and bacterial physiology, and the impact of science on human relations.
Early in his career, Davis created the penicillin enrichment method for obtaining nutritional mutants of Escherichia coli, as did Joshua Lederberg (1925-2008), independently. While at Harvard Medical School, his key scientific findings included the details of the ribosome cycle; protein secretion vesicles; the dominance of susceptibility to streptomycin (due to the misreading of the genetic code); and in 1987, with colleague P.C. Tai, a unified mechanism of streptomycin killing. Davis’s work with Werner Maas foreshadows later findings in genetics, as well, though he did not focus primarily on genetics. He authored or coauthored more than 200 scientific papers. In the latter portion of his career, Davis became an advocate for the role of science in culture, the ethics of genetic engineering, evolution and human diversity, the implications of affirmative action, and the defense of fellow scientists accused of fraud and misconduct. He was also an active teacher, also leading a physiology course at the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, between 1955 and 1960, and was a visiting professor at Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel (1985), the University of California, Berkeley (1986), National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan (1987).
Davis authored multiple editions of a new textbook for medical students, Microbiology (first edition, 1967), along with R. Dulbecco, H. Eisen, H. Ginsberg, and initially W.B. Wood. In his role as advocate, he published a collection of essays concerning contemporary controversies facing science and scientists, entitled Storm Over Biology: Essays On Science, Sentiment, and Public Policy,in 1986. At the time of his death in 1994, Davis had nearly completed a manuscript on the topic of accusation of fraud against Dr. David Baltimore (born 1938), due to his work with Dr. Thereza Iminishi-Kari, and the ensuing scandal, which was never published. In 1967, Davis was elected to the National Academy of Science, and was also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, among numerous other professional affiliations. He acted as a Fogarty Scholar at the National Institutes of Health in 1988, and received the Selman A. Waksman Award in Microbiology in 1989.
Bernard D. Davis was known not only for his microbiological research, which focused on the ribosome cycle, streptomycin and the misreading of the genetic code as well as a unified mechanism of streptomycin killing. His scientific research with Walter Maas foreshadows later findings in genetics. Yet, in the latter portion of his career, Davis became focused on the role science plays within culture, the ethics of genetic engineering, the implications of affirmative action on medical education, and issues surrounding scientific fraud.The following items demonstrate his activities as a public intellectual and his interest in moral and ethic inquiries at the intersection of science and culture.