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The morphoregulator theory


'In my end is my beginning': Back to antibodies
Gerald Edelman Scientist
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Here comes another epiphany. We worked along and, again, science is we, art is I: there was a group of people. And we worked out the first clone and sequence of the gene for this cell adhesion molecule and then I got hit in the head again, because, guess what? It turned out to have the structure of an immunoglobulin, of an antibody. And I remember what went through my mind at that point – 'In my end is my beginning' from TS Eliot, The Four Quartets. Because here it was I was away from antibody and it came back, and it came back with a vengeance because it had been determined just by then that fruit flies... your field, Ralph... fruit flies had molecules of this kind. So it looked like the precursor to both antibodies and cell adhesion molecules had the kind of primitive, as it were, fundamental structure of an antibody domain; which was sort of like a real deep lesson in science. You can't be too smart. The fact is unimaginable things occur, and even if you're interested in theory, it's never exhaustive – there's always a surprise. So, that began a very intensive effort in determining the nature of cell adhesion and the problem of morphogenesis.

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 Four Quartets, TS Eliot

Duration: 1 minute, 18 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008