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Identifying Mycoplasma orale


How Mycoplasma pneumoniae came to be attributed to the wrong research team
Leonard Hayflick Scientist
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During the time that... that Norman was working with Bob, which was prior to the publication of the paper on naming the organism, Norman wrote a paper along with several other co-authors. I don't recall whether Bob Chanock was one of the authors or not. He very well may have been, but Norman's name was the first name on the paper. I don't recall the substance of the paper, but it so happened that Norman who, of course, was one of the signatures to the organism naming letter, knew of that happening and while that paper in Science, naming the organism, was in press, the paper that Norman wrote, a scientific paper, appeared a couple of months, or maybe a month, maybe as few as a few weeks... my recollection is dim on that point. However, it's important to say that that paper by Norman appeared before the one in Science and in that paper, Norman mentioned Mycoplasma pneumoniae. In fact, that paper probably involved some work he was doing with that organism. I'm almost certain of that. Consequently taxonomic law reads that those that... the person who first publishes the name will get credit for the organism.

Consequently, Norman Somerson's paper, having appeared prior to the Science letter, then became the authoritative paper in respect to the naming of the organism and it was then called Mycoplasma pneumoniae Somerson et al, eclipsing the rule that would have applied to the actual naming of the organism in the letter to Science. Norman was very embarrassed about this. He had no idea that the publication of his paper would appear before the Science paper. There was absolutely no way for him to have known that. Scientists generally don't know the precise... at least in those days, the precise month that an article will appear. So he can certainly not be accused of trying to steal thunder from someone else. That was certainly not the case, but I think that it is an interesting anecdote that most people in this field, certainly the elder generations, have never heard.

Leonard Hayflick (b. 1928), the recipient of several research prizes and awards, including the 1991 Sandoz Prize for Gerontological Research, is known for his research in cell biology, virus vaccine development, and mycoplasmology. He also has studied the ageing process for more than thirty years. Hayflick is known for discovering that human cells divide for a limited number of times in vitro (refuting the contention by Alexis Carrel that normal body cells are immortal), which is known as the Hayflick limit, as well as developing the first normal human diploid cell strains for studies on human ageing and for research use throughout the world. He also made the first oral polio vaccine produced in a continuously propogated cell strain - work which contributed to significant virus vaccine development.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Science, Naming the Organism, Norman Somerson, Robert Chanock

Duration: 2 minutes, 50 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2011

Date story went live: 08 August 2012