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Using and Accessing Primary Sources

Research in Bioinformatics (Eilis Boudreau, M.D., Ph.D.)

In this course, students are required to trace a topic of their choice back in time to at least 1900 and to access at least one record via the archives. Some examples are shown below. 

Selected Topics

  • General overview of the history of informatics – this is a good starting place to get some ideas and introductory history
    • Collen, Morris F. 1995. A History of Medical Informatics in the United States, 1950 to 1990. Indianapolis, IN: American Medical Informatics Association.
  • Use of digital computers to aid diagnosis
    • Ledley, R. S., and L. B. Lusted. “Reasoning Foundations of Medical Diagnosis: Symbolic Logic, Probability, and Value Theory Aid Our Understanding of How Physicians Reason.” Science 130, no. 3366 (July 3, 1959): 9–21.
  • Tracking bioinformatics before computers
    • Public Health Surveys (ours have been digitized and are available via our Digital Collections)
    • Armed forces reports (A great deal of early research was conducted by the armed forces and made available through various reports.)
      • Reed, Walter, Vaughan, Victor C., and Shakespeare, Edward O. 1904. Report on the Origin and Spread of Typhoid Fever in U.S. Military Camps During the Spanish War of 1898. Washington [D.C.]: [U.S.] G.P.O. 
    • Assorted disease reports
      • Sternberg, George Miller. 1884. Malaria and Malarial Diseases. New York: Wood.
      • Semmelweis, Ignác Fülöp, and Carter, K. Codell. 1983. The Etiology, Concept, and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever. Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press. (Translation of original 1860 publication)

Color image of a HeLa cell

  • HeLa cells - taken from Henrietta Lacks in 1951 - were the first continuous human cancer cell line; our knowledge of every fundamental process that occurs in human cells has depended to some extent on using HeLa and other cell lines as a model system. This is also an example of an issue that could be studied if looking at medical ethics, as Lacks and her family were unaware of this use; the case also influenced the development of informed consent laws around use of patient information and tissues in research. 
  • Montrose Burrows and Alexis Carrel improved upon Harrison's tissue cultures - creating "immortal cultures" - that could support the growth of cell lines outside of the body.
  • Ross G. Harrison was the first to grow nerve cells outside of the body (first artificial tissue culture), proving that tissues could be grown outside of the body.
  • The structure of DNA was obtained by Watson and Crick in 1953. However, Rosalind Franklin is often unacknowledged in this discovery; without her work and knowledge, Watson and Crick may not have come to the conclusions they did. This is an example of marginalized populations being left out of the history of science and would also be a compelling focus for study. 

Animated gif of DNA structure (double helix)

  • Archibald Garrod wrote about inherited and genetic diseases in 1909.
    • Garrod, Archibald Edward. 1923. Inborn Errors of Metabolism. 2d ed. London: Frowde and Hodder & Stoughton.
  • Mendelian Inheritance includes laws originally proposed by Gregor Mendel in 1865-1866 that were re-discovered in 1900. These laws later became core to classical genetics and helped put natural selection on a mathematical footing (population genetics).
  • Charles Darwin first proposed the theory and science of evolution.
    • Darwin, Charles. 1870. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection = or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. New ed. rev. and augmented by the author. New York: D. Appleton. Available online via the internet Archive.