News & Events
Recognizing the role of Ray Wu (1928-2008) in the development of DNA sequence analysis: A case for recasting "Fifth Businesses" into a heterogeneous history of bioscience
Speaker(s): Asst Prof Lisa Onaga, School of Humanities and Social Sciences College of Humanities, Arts, & Social Sciences, NTU
When: 10 December 2015 - 10 December 2015 (9:30)
Where: SBS Classroom 4 (Level 1)
Type: Seminars


An alternative history of DNA sequencing in the twentieth century is presented through analysis of the work of Ray Wu (1928-2008), a biochemist and molecular biologist who conducted the earliest documented study on DNA sequencing using DNA polymerase catalysis and specific nucleotide labeling. This under-known aspect of the development of DNA sequencing is explored by using the concept of "Fifth Business" in order to consider scientists who play a crucial role in the advancement of a science but for multiple reasons appear less prominently in more common recounts of any particular development. Analysis drawn in part from extensive oral history interviews with Wu and his colleagues about his research on sequencing the cohesive ends of lambda bacteriophage in the 1960s and 1970s illustrates the experience of this Chinese American who aspired to make his career in one of the most competitive fields of research in twentieth century biology. This case suggests a way to understand how Wu and others contributed to the very collective memory of DNA sequencing that Wu eventually tried to repair. The resulting heterogeneous understanding of the history of DNA sequencing that resists predictable dismissals of the contributions of Wu, also a Chinese immigrant, provides a foundation for further critical scholarship on the myriad untold histories of Asian bioscientists in global settings, the sociality of their scientific works, and how the resulting knowledge produced is preserved.


Lisa A. Onaga joined the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at NTU as an assistant professor in 2012. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the Department of Science & Technology Studies at Cornell University, and she received her Sc.B. in biology from Brown University. Her research on the history of biology in Japan examines how and why the study of heredity and genetics grew alongside the booming raw silk trade of early twentieth century. Her book project, “Anatomy of a Hybrid: A Sericultural History of Genetics in Modern Japan,” illustrates why the rationalization of silkworm husbandry serves as a potent site for understanding a nation's entangled interests in industry and trade, biology, and race. Her additional interdisciplinary research interests include: history of agriculture, technology, and industry; biodiversity and genetic resources at national and global levels; and histories of Asian Americans in biology.