"meaningless" names

Alan C. Christensen, Ph.D. achristensen at CRCVMS.UNL.EDU
Thu Oct 24 07:37:16 EST 1996

There has been some comment here on the use of meaningless or silly names
such as the "raw prawn" neuron.  An historical comment on such names can be
found in the chapter by R. S. Edgar in the book "Phage and the origins of
molecular biology".  He describes the discovery of amber mutants, which
were named in honor of Harris Bernstein's mother as an inducement for
Bernstein to help in the work.  He goes on to describe how Allan Campbell
discovered some similar mutants in lambda which he called hd for
host-defective, that were later renamed sus, for suppressor-sensitive.
Edgar then states:

"It is amusing to note that Campbell found it necessary to rename his
mutants after learning more about them, whereas the name amber is just as
meaningless, and thus just as useful now, as when the mutants were first
discovered and named for Mrs. Bernstein".

* Alan C. Christensen, Ph.D.          "...there are those rare  *
* School of Biological Sciences        characters who study the *
* University of Nebraska               unknown product of an    *
* Lincoln, NE 68588-0118               unknown gene.  These we  *
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* FAX 402-472-2083                            -Sidney Brenner   *

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