a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Building a model of gamma globulin


Completing work on the structure of gamma globulin molecule
Gerald Edelman Scientist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

We set to work doing the structure, and after... oh, three years... three and a half years, we were pretty close to finished. Rodney Porter, who of course shared the Nobel Prize, was working on the structure of the heavy chain, and he was of course in every sense a much greater expert than we were. He... he was a student of Sanger's – a very good protein chemist. A man who finally got converted over from instructionism – I think I helped there, or maybe, as he thought, hindered – who was remarkably virtuoso. In fact he did not finish the heavy chain before we finished the whole molecule, and that goes to show you the luck of the draw. It's worth saying something about how we got the sample.

It hooks up to what I said about myeloma proteins – remember I said myeloma proteins are gamma globulins or, if you will, antibodies that haven't yet met their antigen, and that huge amounts of them are made by this tumor, multiple myeloma, which is... is.... grows in such a degree out of the bone marrow that it causes holes in the bone and actually lyses the bone, and this is this mollities ossium of Macintyre and Watson, the Scottish physicians. Well, there was a patient, Mr Eubanks, who had so much myeloma protein in his blood that it was hindering the circulation of his digital arteries and it was threatening gangrene in his hands, so they were going to do an exchange transfusion – that is, put in other blood and take out his myeloma blood. Well, it wasn't a cure but it was a palliation. When I heard of this I said, 'I'll give my blood.' And I came away with about a half a pound of pure antibody in my hands, and that enabled us to go and do this structure.

Well, we did this structure, and I remember quite clearly that it was announced at Atlantic City, at the Federation meetings – I had been offered a lectureship there – and I remember it was my first encounter with what I'll call the style of science reporting in those days; it was the reporter from The New York Times, Walter Sullivan, who was most impressive. It was in fact a big issue; it was a whole page of The Times. He came to me with 30 questions and he said, 'We don't want to talk now; you look over the questions. Anything that's silly throw it out; anything you can answer, answer; those that you can't answer, just say no.' And he came the next day and he gave still what I consider one of the best interviews I've ever had of a science reporter. Those were the days in which you did not have a coterie of science reporters, but maybe it was better; I'm not sure.

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.

Listeners: Ralph J. Greenspan

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.

Tags: The New York Times, Frederick Sanger, Rodney Porter, Walter Sullivan

Duration: 2 minutes, 48 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008