US biologist Gerald Edelman (1929-2014) successfully constructed a precise model of an antibody, a protein used by the body to neutralise harmful bacteria or viruses and it was this work that won him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1972 jointly with Rodney R Porter. He then turned his attention to neuroscience, focusing on neural Darwinism, an influential theory of brain function.
I was born on July 1st 1929 in New York City. My mother was one of the early women in the insurance business and therefore had a great deal to do with Wall Street. My father was a general practitioner serving in that role, although he was trained as a surgeon, and he insisted on working in a rather poor neighborhood. He was very dedicated, because he was one of the earliest cases of polio in Philadelphia where he was born – had a great sympathy for disability. My mother of course had different notions, and thus I had a very extraordinary exposure because living in the poor neighborhood was one thing, but living in a rather fancy place was another. That was Long Beach, Long Island, where they had a rather elaborate set-up and house. My mother of course felt that I should go to a fancy school like Horace Mann Lincoln, which was the one that was outstanding in New York, and my father said, 'No, my son goes with the people.' My father won, and so I went to a local high school where I learned how to run and, if stuck against barriers, to use fisticuffs.
This was about what I remember in my early youth; except that I did remember just now my concern with gadgets and, speaking of my father, I remember the time I tried to build a welding machine out of a women's hair curler and a brazing rod, with nichrome wire for resistance, and I did know about Ohm's law, but I obviously didn't calculate right, because in the basement when I turned it on, a huge blue sheet of flame came out of the circuit breakers which were circumvented; my father was not pleased. I might like to hook this up to my later scientific excursions but I can't really.
In fact, what I was – how shall I say – attracted to enormously was music. I think the first exposure I have in recollection is that my mother and father figured out a very neat way of babysitting in those days. They'd park me and my sister Doris in a box in Carnegie Hall and leave for the two hours of the concert and then come back and fetch us. And I do remember my first exposure to music, which was Fritz Reiner conducting Eine Kleine Nachtmusik of Mozart, and I could... I was close enough that I actually could see, I believe, a little bump on his nose, as well as follow with fascination what he was doing with his fingers and arms; and something happened at that moment to turn me onto music and thus a good deal of my time outside of regular schoolwork was spent at the violin. I had a succession of teachers at that, finally landing up with a teacher known as Albert Meiff, who was a classmate of Jascha Heifetz in St Petersburg under Leopold Auer – that very famous pedagogue of the violin... turned out one brilliant violinist after another. My parents were quite happy to support this enterprise except they were not happy about having me do it professionally, so we were a bit at cross purposes, and I do remember my mother saying that performing music was not more than one step above juggling. And I said, 'Mother, you know, Mozart and Beethoven are not juggling.' She said, 'Well, I see that didn't work, so I have two more things to say to you.' And I said, 'What?' And she said, 'Jascha Heifetz.' And she walked out of the room. Well, I didn't really listen to her until one moment when I was in a recital and I realized at the end of playing this Franck Sonata, that I really wasn't interested in the audience, and it struck me for the first time that, while I was trained in music and wasn't really half bad, I was not really interested in performance. And it was at that moment that I said, 'Oh well, you better not do this thing.' So I thought I'd compose. But then while I had a theory of music pretty closely in my head, I had no gift whatsoever. And it was at that moment that I decided that I would look elsewhere, and finally I landed on the notion of becoming a scientist.
Dr. Greenspan has worked on the genetic and neurobiological basis of behavior in fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) almost since the inception of the field, studying with one of its founders, Jeffery Hall, at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, where he received his Ph.D. in biology in 1979. He subsequently taught and conducted research at Princeton University and New York University where he ran the W.M. Keck Laboratory of Molecular Neurobiology, relocating to San Diego in 1997 to become a Senior Fellow in Experimental Neurobiology at The Neurosciences Institute. Dr. Greenspan’s research accomplishments include studies of physiological and behavioral consequences of mutations in a neurotransmitter system affecting one of the brain's principal chemical signals, studies making highly localized genetic alterations in the nervous system to alter behavior, molecular identification of genes causing naturally occurring variation in behavior, and the demonstration that the fly has sleep-like and attention-like behavior similar to that of mammals. Dr. Greenspan has been awarded fellowships from the Helen Hay Whitney Foundation, the Searle Scholars Program, the McKnight Foundation, the Sloan Foundation and the Klingenstein Foundation. In addition to authoring research papers in journals such as "Science", "Nature", "Cell", "Neuron", and "Current Biology", he is also author of an article on the subject of genes and behavior for "Scientific American" and several books, including "Genetic Neurobiology" with Jeffrey Hall and William Harris, "Flexibility and Constraint in Behavioral Systems" with C.P. Kyriacou, and "Fly Pushing: The Theory and Practice of Drosophila Genetics", which has become a standard work in all fruit fly laboratories.
1st July 1929, Long Beach, Long Island, Carnegie Hall, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Fritz Reiner, Jascha Heifetz, Albert Meiff