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Ed Lewis


'Making an organism is a pretty horrendously complex thing'
Gerald Edelman Scientist
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Wieschaus and Nusslein-Volhard showed that there were developmental regulatory genes, now known for example as Hox genes and Pax genes. And we were able to show that Hox genes and Pax genes controlled the genetic expression of certain cell adhesion molecules, which is sort of one quarter of the way there but it's by no means the full answer. Indeed, making an organism is a pretty horrendously complex thing. Not only complex because each individual cell is a whole universe of complexity, but because of the dynamics of these so-called primary processes of development which are cell division, cell motion, cell adhesion, cell death, and finally embryonic induction where one set of cells sends messages to another to convert its fate. We got to a certain extent there and it was really rather... rather pleasant, and a really different kind of problem than the antibody problem, because you notice that it is still not resolved. In the meantime, however, some remarkable genetics has been done. The problem is, I think, and this is worth mentioning, that when you get success you've got to watch out because it blinds you and certain problems fall by the wayside. You're so sure that what you've got is the whole answer that you have to sort of occasionally back up and ask what's going on. That isn't being done terribly much these days in my opinion. I think partly because the technology is so superb you can just charge ahead and think, well, you're getting things, but the problems of biology remain very deep.

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: Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, Eric F Wieschaus

Duration: 1 minute, 40 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008