Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society

Online ISSN: 0003-049X
In the early 1920s, determinist conceptions of biology helped to transform Better Babies contest into Fitter Families competitions with a strong commitment to controlled human breeding. While the earlier competitions were concerned for physical and mental standards, the latter contests collected data on a broad range of presumed hereditary characters. The complex behaviors thought to be determined by one's heredity included being generous, jealous, and cruel. In today's context, the popular media often interpret advances in molecular genetics in a similarly reductive and determinist fashion. This paper argues that such a narrow interpretation of contemporary biology unnecessarily constrains the public in developing social policies concerning complex social behavior ranging from crime to intelligence.
Robert K. Merton, one of the greatest sociologists of our time, and the doyen of the sociology of science, died in Manhattan on 23 February 2003, at the age of ninety-two. He was an exemplary discipline-builder who formulated key concepts with which to perceive and solve sociological problems, a masterful teacher, and a kind colleague. His passing left a large void in the intellectual world of social science.
Konrad Bloch was a man of strong ethical principles. In personality, he was soft-spoken, kind, and generous. His home in Lexington, Massachusetts, with Lore, his wife of more than sixty years, his daughter, Susan, and son, Peter, was at the center of a joyous family life.
The "Spanish" influenza pandemic of 1918-19 caused acute illness in 25-30 percent of the world's population and resulted in the death of up to an estimated 40 million people. Using fixed and frozen lung tissue of 1918 influenza victims, the complete genomic sequence of the 1918 influenza virus has been deduced. Sequence and phylogenetic analysis of the completed 1918 influenza virus genes shows them to be the most avian-like among the mammalian-adapted viruses. This finding supports the hypotheses that (1) the pandemic virus contains genes derived from avian-like influenza virus strains and that (2) the 1918 virus is the common ancestor of human and classical swine H1N1 influenza viruses. The relationship of the 1918 virus with avian influenza viruses is further supported by recent work in which the 1918 hemagglutinin (HA) protein crystal structure was resolved. Neither the 1918 hemagglutinin (HA) nor the neuraminidase (NA) genes possess mutations known to increase tissue tropicity that account for the virulence of other influenza virus strains like A/WSN/33 or the highly pathogenic avian influenza H5 or H7 viruses. Using reverse genetics approaches, influenza virus constructs containing the 1918 HA and NA on a modern human influenza virus background were lethal in mice. The complete 1918 virus was even more virulent in mice. The genotypic basis of this virulence has not yet been elucidated. The complete sequence of the non-structural (NS) gene segment of the 1918 virus was deduced and also tested for the hypothesis that enhanced virulence in 1918 could have been due to type I interferon inhibition by the NS1 protein. Results from these experiments suggest that in human cells the 1918 NS1 is a very effective interferon antagonist, but the 1918 NS1 gene does not have the amino acid change that correlates with virulence in the H5N1 virus strains identified in 1997 in Hong Kong. Sequence analysis of the 1918 pandemic influenza virus is allowing us to test hypotheses as to the origin and virulence of this strain. This information should help elucidate how pandemic influenza virus strains emerge and what genetic features contribute to virulence in humans.
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Jeffery K Taubenberger
  • National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Sheldon M Ebenholtz
  • State University of New York College of Optometry
Andrew Miller
  • University of Maryland, Baltimore County
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Luis Villarreal
  • University of California, Irvine