Papers of Guido Pellegrino Arrigo Pontecorvo, genetics research correspondence

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

  • Glasgow: current research (up to 1960), including correspondence detailing Pontecorco's research on recombination and the parasexual cycle as well as experimenting with Aspergillus nidulans and Aspergillus nidulans;
  • Research 1960s-1980s, including correspondence on haploidization, the parasexual cycle, and PEG cell fusion;
  • Potentially valuable signatures,  a bundle of correspondence between Pontecorvo and notable geneticists charting the development of research in genetics and other related fields during the 1940s-1960s;
  • Various bundles of correspondence relating to patents and Pontecorvo's research work on Aspergillus, icluding copies of the patents and correspondence with the National Research Development Corporation;
  • Miscellaneous correspondence on Pontecorvo's response to a patent dispute and his research on sudden infant death syndrome or cot death.

Most of the bundles of correspondence contain original letters from correspondents, as well as manuscript or carbon copies of Pontecorvo's responses.

This description is part of the main  Guido Pontecorvo collection which has been divided into the following sections, each with its own separate description:  

Administrative / Biographical History

Guido Pellegrino Arrigo Pontecorvo (1907-1999), who liked to be known by his nickname, Ponte, was an Italian geneticist who became the University of Glasgow's first Professor of Genetics in 1955, and has been described as "one of the founding fathers of modern genetics". He endowed prizes and scholarships for students at the University and the Genetics Building was named for him in 1995. Born and educated in Pisa, Pontecorvo was forced to leave Italy in 1938 and settled in Scotland. He was appointed a lecturer in Genetics at the University's Zoology Department in 1945, and a new department was set up in the Anatomy laboratories of the Anderson College building soon afterwards. He became a Reader in 1952, three years before his appointment to the new Chair. He left Glasgow in 1968 to take a post at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund's laboratories in London. Pontecorvo was one of the leading figures of his day in the study of of cell genetics. For a more detailed biography see the  full Pontecorvo collection description.

Pontecorvo's earlier research was concerned with animal breeding and radiation effects and genetics of speciation with Drosophila. He made significant contributions to cattle breeding in Tuscany where he organized a wide-ranging programme of recording and selective breeding for milk yield and draught ability in two regional cattle breeds. When he came to Glasgow Pontecorvo's main interests were in mitotic genetics, mutation theories, gene regulation and recombination and what Pontecorvo himself liked to call "Parasexual cycle genetics". Pontecorvo's two main contributions to genetics were his discovery of the parasexual cycle in fungi, which led him to develop methods of genetics analysis that became the foundations of what is now known as somatic cell genetics. The Parasexual Cycle was successfully patented in 1954 and was the first patent to be issued in any jurisdiction for a natural biological process. Pontecorvo's second major contribution to genetics was his work on intragenic recombination and his seminal paper titled Genetic formulation of gene structure and gene action (1952), on the organisation of the genetic material. This paper proposed a new theory of the gene a year before Watson and Crick's famous discovery of the structure of DNA.


Pontecorvo arranged his correspondence into folders of related material. This arrangement has been maintained. Folders of correspondence have been arranged below in a rough chronological order to show the development of Pontecorvo's ideas and research but kept within the original order within each folder. This is usually reverse chronological.

Conditions Governing Access


Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

None which affect the use of this material

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the Archivist.

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 248 procedures

Related Material

GB 248 UGC 198/8, lectures and broadcasts contains lecture notes on some of Pontecorvo's main research interests while GB 248 UGC 198/7 contains a set of publications and reprints related to his main research interests.


No known publications using this material

Additional Information

Description compiled in line with the following international standards: International Council on Archives, ISAD(G) Second Edition, September 1999 and National Council on Archives, Rules for the construction of personal, place and corporate names

Scotland is the location of all place names in the administrative/biographical history element, unless otherwise stated.

Collection catalogued by Gemma Tougher, Assistant Archivist (Cataloguing) from February 2011 to August 2011. Converted to Encoded Archival Description by Gemma Tougher, Assistant Archivist (Cataloguing) January 2012.

Geographical Names