Re- Greatest immunological

Ephraim Fuchs ejf at
Fri Oct 28 18:03:37 EST 1994

In article <199410280919.CAA14598 at>,
>                      Re: Greatest immunological discovery
>I feel it is a bit of a red herring to talk in terms of a single 'greatest
>discovery'.  The two so far mentioned (the two signal model of lymphocyte
>activation and monoclonal antibodies) are undoubtedly major and each may be
>seen as a decisive moment in the direction and understanding of modern
>immunology.  But what of Susumu Tonegawa's demonstration of immunoglobulin-gene
>recombination?  Breaking the paradigm of one-gene-one-protein was significant
>for all biologists.  Most significantly, it was a quantum leap for immunology,
>laying the empirical foundation for molecular proof of the theory of clonal
>selection (itself a major theoretical leap by Ehrlich, then Macfarlane-Burnet)
>and opened the door for all subsequent work on the genetic structure of
>antibodies and T-cell receptors.
>This is but a single prominent example of a 'great discovery', as are the two
>others mentioned above.  The key point is that they do not exist in isolation
>but inform each other, ultimately helping both to create and draw upon a
>conceptual framework which lies at the heart of modern immunological research. 
> Other 'great discoveries' may be seen within this context and discoveries yet
>to be made will rely upon this foundation.  However, to suggest that there is
>more than one key moment is not to diminish the importance of each.  The more
>beacons we have to guide us, the clearer the road ahead.
>Rob Brines

I agree with you entirely that it is inappropriate to rank discoveries in 
order of importance, but I was just trying to get some stimulating 
discussion going on in this newsgroup, rather than reading postings about 
where to get interleukin 15 or "why can't I get my experiments to work?"

By the way, my guess is that the clonal selection theory is wrong, and 
that some lymphocytes exhibit more than one specificity.  In the most 
recent Annual Reviews of Immunology, Mel Cohn talks about how when he was 
first looking for double expressing B cells, he found a 5% frequency but 
allowed himself to be convinced it was due to artifact.  It appears that 
he now believes that they do occur but at a level sufficiently low that 
autoimmunity is infrequent.  If you think about it, it seems unlikely 
that allelic exclusion could be perfect.  However, it is yet another 
demonstration how theories drive the interpretation of experiments.

Ephraim Fuchs
ejf at

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