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Somatic recombination theory


Theorizing on the problem of how antibodies became different
Gerald Edelman Scientist
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I have always been interested in theorizing, and that's not perhaps a very popular thing to do in biology. In physics it's an essential thing. In biology, for the most part, without being condescending when I say it, you really don't need it; you need genetics as we understand it today, you need chemistry and you admit that Darwin was the greatest, but you don't really do it the way a physicist does it when he says, ‘I need the second law and I have the Schröedinger equation’, or what have you. But I've always believed in this other idea that you might as well theorize, as long as it doesn't drive you nuts. So Joe and I started to attack this problem of how the antibody molecule had variable sequence so that each cell would end up with a different sequence in that part of the molecule that bound the antigen. Well, we'd already shown that if you took the light and heavy chains from two different antibodies, you could recombine them so that you can get enough diversity from one variable region, the L, the light, and one variable region the heavy, the H, and so P x Q – you can get a lot of variation that way, but it still wasn't enough.

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: Joe Gally

Duration: 1 minute, 7 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008