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Comparing the alleles of the rat and the mouse


Having a mental block about polymorphism between species
Jan Klein Scientist
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This was the first indication that there is sharing... real sharing of alleles between two different species. Now, that presented a problem and I struggled with that problem for a long time... not a long time but several years I would say. Well, that's a long time. Normally everybody would argue, and everybody did argue as it turned out... would argue that this must be so-called convergence.  That these alleles arose independently in the two strains, or two species. I had difficulty with that explanation and I was not willing to accept it but I was thinking what could be the other, the alternative... what better explanation? It now... the solution now seems very logical and obvious, but it's a good example of what difficulties you face. The blocks in your mind that prevented you to see the obvious solution, and I remember waking up one morning very precisely and suddenly it came to me, you are stupid, this is very simple. In my mind was polymorphism always associated with the species. There was no way of sharing polymorphism between species but it occurred to me well, what if that is not true and actually the alleles arose before the species separated and they just remained in both species. That's why they have the same alleles so that polymorphism could be much older than the conventional wisdom that all geneticists were willing to... never doubt, was actually not true. So the conventions are often a very big hindrance in finding the right explanation, which in this case was certainly so.

Born in 1936, Jan Klein is a Czech-American immunologist who co-founded the modern science of immunogenetics – key to understanding illness and disease. He is the author or co-author of over 560 scientific publications and of seven books including 'Where Do We Come From?' which examines the molecular evolution of humans. He graduated from the Charles University at Prague in 1955, and received his MS in Botany from the same school in 1958. From 1977 to his retirement in 2004, he was the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Biology at Tübingen, Germany.

Listeners: Colm O'hUigin

Colm O'hUigin is a senior staff scientist at the US National Cancer Institute. He received his BA, MSc and PhD at the Genetics Department of Trinity College, Dublin where he later returned as a lecturer. He has held appointments at the Center for Population and Demographic Genetics, UT Houston, and at the University of Cambridge. As an EMBO fellow, he moved in 1990 to the Max Planck Institute for Biology in Tübingen, Germany to work with Jan Klein and lead a research group studying the evolutionary origins of immune molecules, of teeth, trypanosomes and of species.

Tags: polymorphism

Duration: 2 minutes, 40 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008