Re: Challenge

Date: Thu Oct 11 2001 - 11:10:43 EDT

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    Moorad writes:
    >There is only one Noble prize in physics that has anything to do
    >with the Big Bang-- Penzias and Wilson 1978--and that was an
    >accidental discovery not influenced by theoretical work on the early
    >universe. Of course, our interpretation of the radiation being the
    >remnant of the Big Band may change in the future. My challenge to
    >those who know the field of physiology or medicine, etc. is the
    >following: What Nobel Prize granted in such fields was the result of
    >applications of evolutionary theory? I enclose the press release of
    >this year's prize in physiology or medicine. Moorad

    I'd say evolutionary _theorIES_ rather than theory.

    Hmmm... Are Nobels generally awarded for applications of a theory
    or elucidation of the theory itself and/or mechanisms which lead
    to the theory? I think it's generally the latter. This is particularly
    true for the award in physiology and medicine where Nobels for
    research tend to lag the initial discovery until long after
    applications are found and the impact of the work is generally
    appreciated. The most recent example is Hartwell, Hunt & Nurse;
    they got the award about 20 years after the fact.

    Note that most Nobels given in relation to organismal biology come
    under the area of physiology and medicine, not biology in general.
    Consequentially, most are related to the elucidation of fundamental
    biochemical mechanisms of organisms. That's why I wouldn't expect
    to ever see an award for work in paleontology.

    Similarly, most of the work cited relates to studies of evolution
    in terms of discovering mechanisms underlying evolution.

    Starting from the earliest - Particularly pertinent would be:
    1933: Thomas Hunt Morgan's work on fly genomics. His research had
    major impact on evolutionary studies and the "Modern synthesis"
    in which genetic research was merged with the study of evolution.
    During that period, Morgan was thoroughly aware of the relationship
    of his work to theories of evolutionary mechanisms.

    1946: Hermann Muller's work on Xrays and mutation.

    Other, earlier work on the nature of DNA and related biochemical
    discoveries included: Lederberg, Beadle & Tatum (1958 - Genetic organization
    and mechanisms); Watson, Crick & Wilkins (1962 - Structure of DNA);
    Jacob, Lwoff & Monod (1965 - Genetic control mechanisms), Rous
    (1966 - Tumor transforming viruses), Khorana, Holley & Nirenberg
    (1968 - Genetic code); Delbruck, Luria & Hershey (1969 way too late,
    IMHO - Replication & genetics of viruses). All of these have provided
    the early foundations for studies of evolutionary genetics and if
    one reads their biographies or collections of papers, one will see
    that most were aware of the relationships of their work to evolutionary
    mechanisms and development.

    Perhaps missing from the list of Nobels is Sewall Wright for his
    work on inheritance and evolutionary genetics, which never seemed to
    clearly fall into the category of "physiology and medicine". The same
    could be said for many others.

    Outside of the "physiology and medicine" award:
    Interestingly, Nobel awards in economics often find application in
    evolutionary biology. The study of markets and game theories, which
    all involve components of selection, have influenced and have been
    influenced by evolutionary biology, particularly behavioral

    Note also that there are no Nobel prizes in mathematics. This would
    tend to bias against recognition of the areas of neural networks
    and applications of genetic algorithms. Such work has received
    internationally recognized awards; just never a Nobel (not directly,
    at least).

    Overall, I think it's a tad early to expect Nobels from _applications_
    of evolutionary theories. For example, the application of evolutionary
    mechanisms to drug design and research is less than a decade old. DNA
    computers have been demonstrated but probably won't make it as a
    mature technology. Genetic algorithms have found many applications in
    engineering but it's still relatively new and not a likely subject for a

    Tim Ikeda (

    mail2web - Check your email from the web at .

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