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.


Into the field of embryogenesis and morphogenesis


Open and closed science
Gerald Edelman Scientist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

Well, that is a really nice piece of luck isn't it – to have to be in a domain closed enough and contextually connected enough so you could see what happened, from the beginning problems, all the way pretty much... not to an end but to a framework. And I like to say this. People misunderstand me when I do but I'll take the risk. There are open sciences and closed sciences. When I went in, immunology was an open science – that is, the central principle of specificity had not been solved. They knew about it but they didn't know how it came about, biologically and genetically. By the time all story was over as a result of the work of large numbers of laboratories and all kinds of fancy genetics, it pretty much was understood, that the origin of specificity went as I said, and immunology in that sense became a closed science. There was still lots of things to do but the central principle was grasped. I can give you an example in the medical field: nephrology – how is urine made? Well, what happens is, blood pressure drives in the glomerulus of the kidney, drives proteins sometimes, if they're small enough, but fluids and electrolytes through and to make a different kind of composition fluid; but then you still don't know how urine is made because that doesn't agree with what you measure. What happened is Richards, the great scientist at Penn, discovered tubular reabsorption, and when you tubular reabsorb the right number you get exactly what you get in urine. So nephrology became a closed science as a result of Richards' work. Well, in the case of antibodies, of course was the work of a large number of people, but it was a rather beautiful experience to see that happening.

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: Alfred Newton Richards

Duration: 1 minute, 50 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008