Marshall and Warren win Nobel for work on Helicobacter as cause of peptic ulcers

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But I thought biologists were too “close-minded?”

Australians Barry J. Marshall and Robin Warren won the 2005 Nobel Prize in medicine Monday for showing that bacterial infection, not stress, was to blame for painful ulcers in the stomach and intestine.

The 1982 discovery transformed peptic ulcer disease from a chronic, frequently disabling condition to one that can be cured by a short regimen of antibiotics and other medicines, the Nobel Prize committee said.

Thanks to their work, it has now been established that the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which the new Nobel winners discovered, is the most common cause of peptic ulcers.

After proposing that idea, Marshall and Warren had to persevere in the face of skepticism. Marshall even deliberately infected himself with the bacterium in 1985 and showed it caused stomach inflammation, a potential precursor of an ulcer.

‘No one believed it’ The Australians’ idea was “very much against prevailing knowledge and dogma because it was thought that peptic ulcer disease was the result of stress and lifestyle,” Staffan Normark, a member of the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska institute, said at a news conference.

This is a great example of how science works. These men proposed a hypothesis that was pretty far outside the mainstream at the time (even though there had been some antecdotal and published evidence regarding antibiotic treatment and resolution of ulcers). They tested it; they gathered evidence to support it; they published their results in the literature; and eventually, they overturned the prevailing notion that ulcers were caused by stress and diet based on the experimental evidence. They didn’t rely on think tanks, or mission statements, or pressure from supporters in high places in order to have their ideas accepted–they won over their audience on the merits of their research. Was it easy? From interviews I’ve read, hell no. But they perservered, others joined them in uncovering evidence that supported their hypothesis, and today, they’ve been rewarded with one of the highest honors that a scientist can receive. Congratulations, gentlemen, and let this serve as yet another example of scientists embracing new ideas when they’re backed by quality research.

Edited to add: Carl Zimmer has a great piece on this over on The Loom. He mentions one thing I didn’t touch on, but is a damn good point:

But it also illustrates a point that I made when last year’s Nobelists were announced: it demonstrates how intimately woven evolutionary biology is becoming with medicine.

Check out his post for further elaboration…he also has a link to a .pdf review showing how variation in H. pylori (and other microbes) are being used to investigate past human migrations.

And…one more comment from Derek Lowe also on Corante (In the Pipeline):

Crazy ideas won’t necessarily get you tossed out of the club. Crazy ideas with nothing to back them up will. But just come back with the evidence, and they won’t be crazy any more. Show me the religion that takes its heretics and makes them bishops, won’t you?

Well said.

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Two Aussies had proved the connection: H. pylori to gut insurrection. Said Barry J Marshall, "No—belly's are partial to Helicobacter infection." 2005 Nobel Prize in medicine Read More

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So… if the IDers want to do real research, they should infect themselves with bacteria?

I’m down with it.

Preferably bacteria with flagella.

Well, self-flagellation has a long and … erhm. Nevermind.

RBH

Helicobacter pylori was intelligently designed to give evolutionary biologists indigestion whenever debating IDTists/creationists. A careful survey of human populations will discover a gene that is activated by the belief that all life forms arose suddenly in their current forms, proof of which requires no research and can easily be deduced by simple observations of nature.

The protein product of this gene easily crosses into the lumen of the gut causing the constant shedding of H. pylori which passes harmlessly out of the body. This helps protect persons carrying the activated gene from indigestion and ulcers.

This proteins mechanism of action may involve inhibiting adhesion proteins. “H. pylori may use at least five different adhesins to attach to gastric epithelial cells. One of them, HpaA (HP0797), was previously identified as a lipoprotein in the flagellar sheath and outer membrane.” Since the mechanism of action involves inhibiting a flagellar protein, part of an IC structure, this may be taken as further evidence that H. pylori was intelligently designed to harass evolutionary biologists.

Persons carrying the activated form of this gene may be easily identified by the large amounts of waste material they produce from the constant shedding of H. pylori and apologetics is the favorite tool used to cover this embarrassing and distressing problem.

Delta Pi Gamma (Scientia et Fermentum)

It’s great to see some Australians winning, I believe that for our population size we have the most productive scientfic community in the world.

when I was in medical school the big debate was whether stress or hyperacidity was the cause of peptic ulcers. This shows the danger and uselessness of false dichotomies in science which is pertinent to intelligent design that has set itself up as the default position of the failure of evolution to be “proven 100%.” The second most common cause of peptic ulcers is non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs so stress and hyperacidity are at best in a weak 3rd and 4th place if anywhere still on the map. It was long believed that no bacteria could survive where “stomach acid that could eat its way through a metal plate” (as the old antacid commercials used to say) existed. Prokaryocytes are pretty remarkable little buggers and well deserve their true survivalist credentials.

It’s worth pointing out that Derek Lowe is very conservative. He has denounced ID in the past. Not all conservatives are anti-science. The creationists here who believe that being a good christian conservative requires creationism, should pay attention to people like Lowe.

Hiya’ll wrote:

“It’s great to see some Australians winning, I believe that for our population size we have the most productive scientfic community in the world.”

One of my first thoughts too, when I saw the news. I’ve attended a research conference in Australia and have long hoped to go there to do research of my own. I really enjoyed the vibrant scientific atmosphere during my visit last year.

From my admittedly cursory scan of the H. pylori literature, that system seems to be a textbook adventure in evolutionary ecology. I currently work on a different symbiotic system with multiple ecological trade-offs and diverse adaptations – Wolbachia infections in arthropods. Despite the dire worldview of the ID crowd, I rely on the predictive value of evolutionary theory on a daily basis. I expect to dive further into publications on H. pylori to inform my own future work.

The recognition of Drs. Marshall and Warren is definite cause for celebration. I remember vividly how badly a few of my older relatives suffered with ulcers back in the 1960s. Of course, the presence of an effective cure comes with a trade-off of its own – people can no longer blame their ulcers on difficult family members!

Their story is hardly an example of the open mindedness of biologists. I listened to a radio interivew with one of them today, he explained how it took ten years for his theories to be accepted, futhermore he explained that he had experienced disrespect and even to an extent personal dislike from others working in the feild. It took a pretty drastic set of circumstances to provoke his partner into drinking live bacteria, I suggest the author of this post looks before he or she tries to make propaganda out of something, regardless of whether or not their theory was eventually accepted the intial reaction was anything but open minded, I’ll finsh with a quote from the link.

“Peura, who met Marshall when both worked at the university and considers him a friend, said Marshall’s perseverance was responsible for the eventual acceptance of the theory. “Any lesser of a person probably would not have been able to withstand some of the ridicule and scorn that was thrown at him initially,” Peura said.”

Their story is hardly an example of the open mindedness of biologists. I listened to a radio interivew with one of them today, he explained how it took ten years for his theories to be accepted, futhermore he explained that he had experienced disrespect and even to an extent personal dislike from others working in the feild. It took a pretty drastic set of circumstances to provoke his partner into drinking live bacteria, I suggest the author of this post looks before he or she tries to make propaganda out of something, regardless of whether or not their theory was eventually accepted the intial reaction was anything but open minded, I’ll finsh with a quote from the link.

“Peura, who met Marshall when both worked at the university and considers him a friend, said Marshall’s perseverance was responsible for the eventual acceptance of the theory. “Any lesser of a person probably would not have been able to withstand some of the ridicule and scorn that was thrown at him initially,” Peura said.”

So what you’re saying, is there was a lot of skepticism, and they did experiments to prove their hypothesis, and the biological community came around? That’s how science is done. Where are ID’s experiments? They don’t exist.

Here’s another part which contrasts strongly with ID

“It was such an intriguing theory that everybody tried to disprove it and couldn’t, so we all became believers,” said Peura, now a professor of medicine at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville.

With ID, a few people tried to disprove it, and easily did, so we all didn’t become believers.

In a little over a decade, H. pylori went from crazy hypothesis to $10 serological test. In the same amount of time, Intelligent Design has gone from a few cranks lecturing at churches, to…a few cranks lecturing at churches. Guess which one is real science?

History The Discovery of Helicobacter Pylori by ID Researchers:

1981 Noticed Stomach Ulcers 1982 Wrote Bestselling Book, “Darwin’s Blistered Belly” 1983-1989 Lectured at Churches on Gaps in “Stress Theory” of Ulcers 1990 Scammed Some Fundies, Got Cool Building in Seattle 1991 Accused Medical Community of Methodological Naturalism 1993 Wrote High School Textbook “Of Tummies and Tamales” 1995 Formed Intelligent Discomfort / Stress Awareness Clubs. Christians Only. 1996 2LoT Argument Against Habaneros: “Hot??–They’re Room Temperature!” 1997 Law Professor Published “Defeating Darwinism by Opening Epiglottises” 1998 Wrote Bestselling Book, “The Stomach Inference” 2000 Conference at Baylor University “Is There Anything Beyond Heartburn?” 2001 Disclaimers on Bottles of Pepto Bismol in Kansas 2002 Rick Santorum Denied Existence of Stomach Acid 2005 Bill Buckingham Declared, “Isn’t Anybody Gonna Stand Up For Sausage and Orange Juice?”, Denied Saying That, Resigned For Unspecified Medical Reasons

I think it shows how normal scientists are. When someone comes along saying that all the old stuff is wrong, its hard not to react somewhat emotionally. But, people have clearly been won round by the evidence, as I recall reading a few years ago. Its the interaction between the logical thinking and emotional involvement of scientists that I find fascinating. Now, if everyone could dissociate themselves from their emotions and be logical like Spock, what would the world be like?

Steve Wrote:

In a little over a decade, H. pylori went from crazy hypothesis to $10 serological test.

Exactly. As I mentioned in the OP, I know it wasn’t easy. I’m an infectious disease person myself, and interested in the link between infection and chronic disease, so Barry Marshall is kind of a cult hero to us. I know about all the garbage he took from other scientists (and not only bench scientists–it was often physicians who were the cruelest, from the interviews I’ve read). But 10 years in science time is damn fast for something to go from “crackpot idea” to preferred treatment. And to be honest, disrespect and personal dislike is all to uncommon in the scientific field anyway. Even if his ideas had been more “mainstream,” he still would have gotten some of that.

Matter of fact, here’s some analysis on the timeline of acceptance of Marshall’s ideas.

From Tara quoting Derek Lowe:

“Show me the religion that takes its heretics and makes them bishops, won’t you?”

Tara: “Well said.”

Well, um, what about Christianity? Luther, Calvin, et al? Granted, the mechanism is different but the result can be about the same. The major difference being that the successful Christian heretics form their own club/religion. Essentially: Religious Dissent with Modification.

But I think the difference is significant. I mean, the “shining stars” of the ID movement are loved by their own little groups, but they’re still far from heroes of mainstream science. We’re not talking about schisms here, but about people who started with a “fringe” idea and have been awarded top honors in the group that originally “shunned” them. Rising to the top of your own separate group isn’t equivalent, IMO.

Hi Tara,

I agree that the difference is significant.

It is important to note that, at least within the US, it is acceptable for Christian groups who do not like one playing field to pack up and move to another. For the most part, other Christians will still consider them Christians, even if the new group’s doctrine is quite radical and even at odds with the rest of Christianity. Many sects, including large and influential ones have done this repeatedly.

Creationists are attempting to set the same rules for science; if you do not like the current science, make up your own. I believe that many creationists are honestly baffled by the resistance from the scientific community. The do not understand the inability of science to change for theological reasons.

IMO this is why the creationists effort to insinuate their theological doctrine into science education is so very dangerous; if they succeed, we will see the fragmentation of sound science education into myriads of individual school districts, each with their curriculum based upon the theology of the most influential local religious group.

Just look at what the Kansas Board of Education is doing. They are not actually pushing for ID to be added to the curriculum, they are pushing to redefine science to include the supernatural. Once that has been done, and the dust has settled, they will be free to add ID or YEC at their leisure.

Shenda

Re “1998 Wrote Bestselling Book, “The Stomach Inference”

Or as Carol Burnette would say - “As the Stomach Turns”.

Re “Essentially: Religious Dissent with Modification.”

And to that I say: pew.

Henry

I notice that Duesberg, who claims that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, hasn’t rolled up his sleeves to test his theory.

On the subject of other groundbreaking work that might have gone against the grain of popular notions at the time…

When Tom Cech proposed that RNA can act catalytically, he *nailed* it with clear experiments before declaring “Mission Accomplished”. Marshall and Warren took a little longer, but they eventually they nailed the bacterial causation of ulcers it too. Hats off to them.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Tara Smith published on October 3, 2005 1:04 PM.

Woodward and Pitts on ID was the previous entry in this blog.

Fitting in: Newly evolved genes adopt a variety of strategies to remain in the gene pool is the next entry in this blog.

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