Microbiology pioneer dies

| 37 Comments

Esther Lederberg dies at 83

Stanford University microbiologist Esther Miriam Zimmer Lederberg, a trailblazer for female scientists and the developer of laboratory techniques that helped a generation of researchers understand how genes function, has died at Stanford Hospital.

Professor Lederberg, who lived at Stanford, was 83 when she died Nov. 11 of pneumonia and congestive heart failure.

She discovered the lambda phage, a parasite of bacteria that became a key tool for the laboratory study of viruses and genetics, and was the co-developer with her husband [Nobel prize winner Joshua Lederberg] of replica plating, a technique for rapid screening of bacteria for desired mutations.

“She developed lab procedures that all of us have used in research,” said cancer researcher Stanley Falkow of the Stanford University School of Medicine.

She was also a pioneer of women’s rights, becoming a full professor at a time when women were rare on the faculties of Stanford and other major universities. “She was a real legend,” said Dr. Lucy Tompkins of Stanford.

(Continued at Aetiology)

37 Comments

She is now an ex atheist.

Well done Anti Krebs. Glad to see you have got your priorities right. I suppose you knew her so well to understand her religious views. Can you tell us more about her life to illuminate us?

My response to the story was one of admiration for a life well-lived. Whenever I read about people achieving in their chosen field, I know there is hope for the future.

Was she an atheist? I believe her first husband was a practicing Jew.

I suppose you knew her so well to understand her religious views.

Rather, he knows God and the afterlife so well that he knows that she is now experiencing the latter and has met the former (as should be obvious, that was the intent of his doltish statement).

Oh, and of course the assumption that all evolutionary biologists are atheists. It’s impressive that he was able to pack so much inanity into so few words.

Too bad she’s burning in hell now… at least according to the idiots. >_>

And why do I get the feeling that “Anti Krebs” is a member of the Jack Krebs ‘fan’ club and has been banned from here before?

Either way, Anti Krebs is yet another shining example of why I wouldn’t want to share in his particular brand of theism.

I am a theist of sorts who definetly believes in an after here existence and I gladly join in the disdain of Anti Krebs ignorant misguided, and tasteless comment as well.

A great post. Thank you Tara Smith.

MS

I’d like to jump in with my appreciation for your post, Tara.

This is my first time to join any blog whatsoever, so I will likely stumble a bit. I’m jumping because a I have a question related to my constant battle with narrow sectarian religious views.

First, a little intro. I am a retired minister and now teach in a 2-year college: philosophy, religions, history. I am greatly in debt to the incredible work that shows up on PT, TalkDesign, and related sites. My own views are still in formation on this my 69th birthday. I dislike the arrogance that I see from many who post here to bait and argue rather than come as inquirers. My theology is struggling with the realization that every fact about the world is also a fact about God, and we who assume a theist position can’t try to change the facts to fit any pre-conception we might have of God’s nature. Enough, now my question.

Can you tell me please – or direct me to sources – of recent instances where any pathogens, under the influence of human-sourced enviornmental changes, have moved to become new species. I read that many pathogens have become more and more resistant to treatment, but have any moved beyond change from within their particular species to become separate species?

I hope my question is clear as I am painfully aware, as an avid reader of PT, of my ineptitude in matters of science. If you can discern a real question here, or can form a better one from sensing my interests here, I’d appreciate an answer. I’m really getting fed up with some of the dense dogmatism that I struggle against in the classroom and with other acquaintances.

Thanks for your time. Cgraham.

I read that many pathogens have become more and more resistant to treatment, but have any moved beyond change from within their particular species to become separate species?

I think it all depends on what one means by “species”.

In most cases, pathogens don’t reproduce sexually so there’s not a clear demarcation line.

Even if they do reproduce sexually, there’s not a clear demarcation line either.

Then there are viruses which don’t technically count as organisms (somebody correct me here).

Can you tell me please … where any pathogens … have moved to become new species.

Does the nylonbug count?

That’s a varient strain of Flavobacterium discovered in the late 80’s that has mutated away from the original strain and “developed” the ability to eat nylon.

This critter is facsinating for at least two reasons; first, we know this bug couldn’t exist before 1935 since there was no such thing as nylon to eat (it’s a completely synthetic polymer never seen one earth before) and second, the exact mutation that enables this bug to digest nylon is extremely well known (it’s a well understood mutaion mechanism called a frame shift).

Opinions as to the exact meaning of all this vary depending on who you ask, but it’s a pretty good demonstration of natural selection at its finest.Google “nylonbug” or start here - http://www.nmsr.org/nylon.htm - for some interesting information

Clement Graham Wrote:

Can you tell me please — or direct me to sources — of recent instances where any pathogens, under the influence of human-sourced enviornmental changes, have moved to become new species. I read that many pathogens have become more and more resistant to treatment, but have any moved beyond change from within their particular species to become separate species?

That’s actually a difficult set of criteria to meet. Speciation, as GuyeFaux says, is difficult to define in asexual creatures, since reproductive compatibility doesn’t apply to them. Also, you would rarely expect pathogens to be dramatically affected by human environmental change, since pathogens by definition live in the environment we’ve changed the least–the insides of ourselves and other organisms.

That said, there are a few examples I’ve been able to find, almost all to do with changes in host species (which in turn was made possible by human-caused environmental changes bringing new species in close contact with one another). If viruses count, we’ve actually got lots–for instance, HIV is an offshoot of the simian immunodeficiency virus family, which infects various nonhuman primates. And canine parvovirus is a daughter species of the feline panleukokemia virus, crossing over from cats to dogs in the 70’s.

In bacteria, there’s the Bartonella family; one species causes trench fever in humans, another causes cat-scratch fever in…well, humans, but that’s because it’s also found in a lot of cats. The human-specialist species appears to have lost a lot of genetic material found in its more generalized, multi-host ancestors. According to Alsmark et al., “The louse-borne human pathogen Bartonella quintana is a genomic derivative of the zoonotic agent Bartonella henselae,” PNAS, June 29, 2004.

Lastly, Sticker’s sarcoma, or canine transmissible venereal tumor (there was a Panda’s Thumb article about it, which you can easily find) is descended from an actual dog–its cells speciated, via cancer, into a pathogen of other dogs.

You people are incredible! Thank You!! for your time and willingness to respond to my question. I now have enough leads to last me for a v-e-r-y long time!

I’ve been away from basic biology for too long, I can tell. I will spend some time educating myself about how bacteria and viruses are identified in the first place, let along how different forms evolve from other forms, thanks to GuyeFaux and Anton Mates.

Anton Mates’ lists of critturs to check into is fantastic. What an incredible way to get a short course that will undoubtedly turn into a very rich long course.

And stevaroni, I checked the “nylon bug” link and I am just flabbergasted! Not only do I get a new door opened for me with great new info, I get a great example of how informed people deal with ID folks at a deep level of science inquiry. Thank you, so much!

What a fascinating world we are part of. I’m especially glad for good people who are willing and able to reach out to those of us whose ignorance must finally be addressed. Good science is indeed at stake, let alone a more sound theology for those of us who assume a theist stance of one kind or another. We must add our voices to those who work in the sciences so the playing field is not co-opted by those who cherish and protect their ignorance for the sake of dogmatic beliefs.

Thank you again, but don’t let this post stop you from adding more information. Keep it coming. I’m sending a link to this site to several other people I know.

Cgraham.

P.S. stevaroni:

The Euhadra snail story is great! I think I knew about this one a long time ago when it didn’t matter as much, because the context was different. Now it is a marvelous new teaching tool, besides being a fascinating piece of nature’s grand diversity by itself.

Cgraham

Now it is a marvelous new teaching tool, besides being a fascinating piece of nature’s grand diversity by itself.

Actually, the in my humble opinion, the coolest piece of evolutionary weirdness is the “ring species”.

That’s what happens in some cases where an organism has a long, thin range that eventually wraps back and meets itself. An example would be a temperate zone around the base of a mountain in the middle of the desert.

Under some circumstances, the mutations going out each way from the middle build up so many changes that when the critters meet again on the other side, they’re different species.

Imagine a hypothetical species of seahorse that develops in Sydney harbor. It spreads out around the Australian coastline in both directions. But a seahorse is small, and they don’t move around in their ranges a whole lot, so mutations mix back and forth slowly. Consequently, the horses at one end of the range start to diverge from those at the other.

When they eventually meet in Perth, those individuals who took the northerly route are so different from those who took the southerly route that they can no longer interbreed. Even though all the individuals along the chain can breed with their immediate neighbors, the ones on the two ends have diverged enough to be different species!

It’s not only a good example of speciation, it also displays that the concept of “species” is, to mother nature at least, a more malleable concept than we think.

Check it out .… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring_species

stevaroni:

WOW!!! I think I know some species of theologians like that.

This is incredibly beautiful. Thank You!

Cgraham

Re “its cells speciated, via cancer, into a pathogen of other dogs.”

That makes me wonder if viruses (or some of them anyway) might be “descendants” of animals or plants in somewhat the same way.

Re “(it’s a well understood mutaion mechanism called a frame shift).”

I recall reading that photosynthesis (as done by green plants) is thought to have originated that way as well.

Henry

Can you tell me please — or direct me to sources — of recent instances where any pathogens, under the influence of human-sourced enviornmental changes, have moved to become new species.

Mosquitoes in underground environments such as subways become adapted to their environment, for instance by becoming more attracted to humans as a blood meal. These mosquitoes are often called Culex molestus even though the molestus from different cities are not directly related. In northern climates where mosquitoes normally must hibernate over winter in some life stage, subway mosquitoes may adapt to breeding year round. London subway mosquitoes are a famous example.

There are ways for speciation to happen in practacally no time. In general though, speciation is a process, not an event, and is expected to take quite some time. When there are newly diverged or diverging populations, you can’t expect perfection. From the paper (1) on London molestus (html, pdf);

In the light of these differences it is not surprising that some authorities have regarded the subterranean form as a distinct species C. molestus (Miles, 1977a,b; Miles & Patterson, 1979). On the other hand, many authors maintain that the pipiens and molestus forms are the same species, with any differences being purely physiological variation (e.g. Harbach et al., 1984). Between these two extremes are those who consider them as subspecies or semispecies (e.g. Urbanelli et al., 1981; Bullini, 1982). In this study no assumptions have been made about the taxonomic status of the two types of Culex. The terms pipiens and molestus form will be used to distinguish populations on the basis of the traits set out in Table 1.

1. Byrne K., and R. A. Nichols. 1999. Culex pipiens in London underground tunnels: differentiation between surface and subterranean populations. Heredity 82: 7-15.

Clement,

You asked about new pathogens. It’s not exactly a pathogen but Culex pipiens, a kind of mosquito that usually feeds on birds but will feed on people, has given rise to what is generally considered to be a new species that feed only on people on the London Underground. It has been called C. molestus but I understand the name has already been used for another species in which case it has to be changed.

Anton Mates referred to Sticker’s sarcoma in dogs. There is a similar thing, Helacyton, derived from a person. It seems to me that for some people this could cause some difficulty as to just what the soul is. Don’t get me wrong - I’m not trying to upset anyone’s religious views, it just struck me as something for theologians to consider.

Now, I don’t want to make Raging Bee’s favorite mistake of assuming I know anything in particular about Cgraham’s religious beliefs simply because he’s a retired minister and has mentioned God in his comments, but I think it’s fair to assume that he’s at least a theist–he believes there is an in-some-sense-supernatural God out there, but apparently believes that God–or his own belief in God–is compatible with evolution as a scientific theory.

So all the bad atheists here should’ve jumped all over Cgraham, polite or not, sincerely interested in some evolutionary twists or not, right?

Hmmm, but several of the defenders of atheists from our most recent “holy war” thread not only managed to refrain from pummeling the good Cgraham, they happily inundated him with suggestions in response to his questions.

Let’s try to judge our local atheists, at least, by their individula behavior when they are politely engaged, rather than by our invidious labels for their kind…

Apologies to those used as “examples” in this comment, who would perhaps have objected to that use had I first requested permission. Feel free to defect from my little homily as you will.

I now return you to your polite and interesting scientific discussion.

Can you tell me please — or direct me to sources — of recent instances where any pathogens, under the influence of human-sourced enviornmental changes, have moved to become new species.

Humans have our own parasite species, including two species of lice. I won’t try to make this lousy story nice. Just google on human louse evolution species. Whale species also have their own “lice”.

Ecologically separated populations may become quite divergent and still be able to interbreed in the right conditions. Hybrids may or may not be viable in any natural environment at hand. Some will say that everyone’s favorite parasite is really still Canis lupus. google canis lupus familiaris.

Henry J Wrote:

Re “its cells speciated, via cancer, into a pathogen of other dogs.”

That makes me wonder if viruses (or some of them anyway) might be “descendants” of animals or plants in somewhat the same way.

I know much less about viruses than they know about me, but this Carl Zimmer article indicates that the currently popular theories of viral evolution have viruses emerging before there were animals or plants; possibly even before eukaryotes, eubacteria and archaea diverged. The recently-discovered giant Mimivirus has been used to support this view; such a huge and almost-living organism might have been the common ancestor of all modern viruses.

Pete Dunkelberg Wrote:

Mosquitoes in underground environments such as subways become adapted to their environment, for instance by becoming more attracted to humans as a blood meal. These mosquitoes are often called Culex molestus even though the molestus from different cities are not directly related. In northern climates where mosquitoes normally must hibernate over winter in some life stage, subway mosquitoes may adapt to breeding year round. London subway mosquitoes are a famous example.

In spite of their famosity, I hadn’t heard about them until this thread. Wow, that’s a beautiful example.

Humans have our own parasite species, including two species of lice.

Batbugs to human-specializing bedbugs is another nice example of parasite speciation; that’s probably our punishment for spending too many millennia in caves.

Some will say that everyone’s favorite parasite is really still Canis lupus. google canis lupus familiaris.

Hey, and if we count that, then I can bring up the New Guinea Singing Dog again. On a previous thread I argued that it has as much right to a separate species classification as many canids, and it’s certainly the product of human environmental disturbance.

Mr. Graham, Talk.Origins has an immense amount of info about evolution in general, and if you want examples of speciation in modern times under more general conditions, there’s a couple of FAQs you may enjoy.

Steviepinhead Wrote:

Hmmm, but several of the defenders of atheists from our most recent “holy war” thread not only managed to refrain from pummeling the good Cgraham, they happily inundated him with suggestions in response to his questions.

Well, I like to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was formerly a minister for the Church of Satan, or (equivalently) the Unitarians. ;-)

Mr. Graham, talkorigins.org has an immense amount of info about evolution in general, and if you want examples of speciation in modern times under more general conditions, there’s a couple of FAQs you may enjoy.

Steviepinhead Wrote:

Hmmm, but several of the defenders of atheists from our most recent “holy war” thread not only managed to refrain from pummeling the good Cgraham, they happily inundated him with suggestions in response to his questions.

Perhaps we all just assumed that he was formerly a minister for the Church of Satan, or (equivalently) the Unitarians. ;-)

Dear kindly and helpful atheists, et. al.:

Up front, I deeply appreciate the responses to me regarding my question. I know I’m not smart enough or experienced enough to stand up to some of you who argue very effectively about theistic issues. I respect your views because, for one thing, I recognize that one metaphysical assumption about reality is as good as another in one regard: they all exist beyond empirical testability. I learned belatedly in my old age to avoid arguments about God’s or god’s existence or non-existence.

Yes, by definition, my beliefs assume some sort of intelligence on God’s part (if we can make sense of the word “intelligence” since we humans claim superiority in this regard and we don’t have much else to compare it too at our level of intelligence – I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this statement}. I’m aware of some of the great many problems my beliefs raise, and I don’t treat others’ objections lightly.

For me, faith in any reality beyond what can be examined empirically is a choice, and connot be defended on empirical grounds. It can only be argued on mostly consequentialist grounds. I don’t look for physical evidence of God in the physical world. I myself prefer a cocktail of some existentialism and American Pragmatist epistemology, with an olive from some of the more hefty Biblical scholars as well believers in other religions.

As you can tell and have so graciously accepted, by interest in blogging with you with great trepidation, I might add) was to get your help in scientific matters, because I too regard ID and the political efforts to contaminate public school classrooms with religion to be a foul and misguided effort. You have responded with some wonderful and interesting leads. I have followed many of them, and my learning curve is again almost vertical (that is, up).

Thank you again, for being the good and helpful people that you are. I am an avid reader of PT, and amid all the diatribes that you unleash on each other and on quasi-intellectuals-of-arrogant-ilk, I think you are at your best when you teach the wonderful stuff you’ve spent a life-time mining for the benefit of the whole world.

P.S.: Richard Simmons noted the Helacyton as of interest regarding the notion of a “soul.” To make it more interesting, a thought experiment that some discuss is the problem created when a particular atom, over the course of many centuries, may get recycled as part of more than one human body. On the day, according to some theist accounts, when bodies and souls reunite on the “Day of Resurrection,” which of the bodies that this atom belonged to gets the atom? Hmmmm. Don’t waste too much effort discussing this one. I mention it because I find it to be one of the complicated issues that we metaphysicians don’t want to have to face, because we metaphysicians have not yet found a way to heal ourselves. Cgraham

Re “a thought experiment that some discuss is the problem created when a particular atom, over the course of many centuries, may get recycled as part of more than one human body.”

Might not take centuries - as I understand it, any one particular atom isn’t likely to spend a whole lot of time in one living body anyway. They get replaced by incoming atoms and then expelled.

Henry

Henry:

Now that you mention it, I do a lot of expelling myself.

Cgraham

Clement Graham Wrote:

I know I’m not smart enough or experienced enough to stand up to some of you who argue very effectively about theistic issues.

If you’re an ex-minister with an actual interest in theology, I suspect you’re being overly modest there.…

For me, faith in any reality beyond what can be examined empirically is a choice, and connot be defended on empirical grounds. It can only be argued on mostly consequentialist grounds. I don’t look for physical evidence of God in the physical world. I myself prefer a cocktail of some existentialism and American Pragmatist epistemology, with an olive from some of the more hefty Biblical scholars as well believers in other religions.

As you can tell and have so graciously accepted, by interest in blogging with you with great trepidation, I might add)

No need for trepidation. As you can see from the front page, the actual percentage of fire-breathing atheists in charge of the site is rather low. Even if we all decided to insta-attack any believer who wandered by–which, I hasten to say, we don’t–someone would still clean up the thread and have a rational discussion with you.

You have responded with some wonderful and interesting leads. I have followed many of them, and my learning curve is again almost vertical (that is, up).

If you find anything interesting on the way that isn’t mentioned on PT or talk.origins, please don’t hesitate to bring it up. Very few of us are evolutionary biologists by training, and we depend largely on one another’s inquisitiveness to turn up interesting facts/developments/conundrums in the field.

Oh, one more example of asexual speciation, my favorite–the evolution of multicellularity in Chlorella, as observed in the lab. It’s mentioned on one of the talk.origins pages linked to above, but there was also a PT thread on the paper. Scroll down the thread only if you want to see just how annoyed we can get when ID folks try to shoot down genuine research from the comfort of their armchairs.…

Henry J Wrote:

Might not take centuries - as I understand it, any one particular atom isn’t likely to spend a whole lot of time in one living body anyway. They get replaced by incoming atoms and then expelled.

And lots of material is passed from every mother to her child during pregnancy.

Doesn’t make much sense to reassemble our future bodies from their original matter anyway–it’s not like they’re gonna be the same bodies, right? They’re going to be upgraded versions; immortal, free from aches and pains (in the case of the heavenbound) and fire-retardant (in the case of the hellbound). So as long as God’s doing all that redesign, can’t he just use new raw material?

For me, faith in any reality beyond what can be examined empirically is a choice, and [cannot] be defended on empirical grounds.

Thank you! If this simple realization were universal, the peril of fundamentalism (with its inherent threat of spreading by violence) would end.

WOW!!! I think I know some species of theologians like that.

LOL! Mr. Graham, you are a delight – and a sort of anti-troll, who elicits light rather than heat.

And Steviepinhead’s comment is on the money. It’s too bad that people like Nick Matzke and Lenny Flank are no more likely to absorb his comment and alter their trollish strawman-bashing than the fundie trolls are likely to absorb Clement Graham’s comments and stop mischaracterizing science, sigh.

Has anyone ever looked at Stanford’s, and some of your heroes, in biological warfare work and government grants pertaining to the same?

Just wondering.

I’m discontinuing my comments for now (what a terrible promise from a preacher no less). End of term deadlines and all that. Just a few parting comments (reneged on my promise already).

From Anton Mates re: “upgraded versions” of our bodies in the glorious hereafter. This might mean I’ll get a new and improved prostate. Hallelujah! Of course, this is only if I have God figured correctly. Maybe She’s just got it in for us inferior male types. And there’s no telling what we might get if the IT is the FSM. Maybe strange appendages that are Intelligently Designed to better handle the Holy Sauce. What metaphysical puzzles we grapple with, eh?

From Popper’s ghost: “…elicits light rather than heat.…” Thank you for that. This is truly my intent. But if it is necessary, heat is good too, and I trust we will all continue to keep the burners at hight temp under those who need to cook a little longer. Sometimes that includes us.

My thanks to all of you for your help and respect. I’ve checked out many of the links you’ve suggested, and I’ve got more leads to work on. My next project will be to spend some time trying to get my chemistry-challenged mind around how RNA got formed as a possible precursor to DNA and beyond: seems a good candidate for understanding some very basic concepts in how life-forms develop and evolve. Thank you again. Cgraham

Thought I smelled you (and your gang), Christensen. You still bitter about the experience you had with the FSM?

I see that this thread rapidly (within 1 generation) mutated into a different discussion. To bring us back on topic - ie the good Prof Lederberg - you like to read her obituary in today’s The (London) Times. It’s at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/newspa[…]8663,00.html She sounds like a nice lady as well as a brilliant scientists - and I rather suspect that the two don’t _always_ go together…

I will have greater admiration to people who contributed to develop the science of Biology than Astrophysics I am related to. Natural sciences should be one step at a time, where Biology is the priority.

Once in Kansas City, MO, USA, someone asked me ‘have you heard they found Pluto is not a planet after all’, I asked ‘do you know there are people with little children living in the bushes behind the Walmart store where I shop’.

If we have greater interest in how to define some celestial rocky object than how to help people with little food resources, higiene and a bed where to rest, how humane we are, if we invest more in car technology, military industry, than in research to cure diseases, how ethical.

I am not met with the work of microbiologist Esther Lederberg, for what is written in the introduction of her research work, the world of humanity owes her respect for what she has done and what generation of microbiology researches continuing her work will do.

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This page contains a single entry by Tara Smith published on November 30, 2006 11:30 AM.

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