Edelman, Gerald Maurice

born July 1, 1929, New York, N.Y., U.S.

U.S. biochemist.

He received an M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. from Rockefeller University. His work with Rodney Porter (b. 1917
d. 1985) on antibodies won a 1972 Nobel Prize. By modeling an entire antibody molecule, Edelman's team found the molecule had more than 1,300 amino acids in a four-chain structure and identified the locations where antigens bind. Focusing on formation and differentiation of tissues and organs, they discovered cell-adhesion molecules, proteins that attach cells together to make tissues. Edelman's attempt at a general theory of neural development and brain function is discussed in his Neural Darwinism (1987).

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▪ American physical chemist
born July 1, 1929, New York, N.Y., U.S.

      American physician and physical chemist who elucidated the structure of antibodies (antibody)—proteins that are produced by the body in response to infection. For this work he shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1972 with British biochemist Rodney Porter (Porter, Rodney Robert). Edelman also made significant contributions to developmental biology and neurobiology.

      Edelman received his M.D. degree from the University of Pennsylvania (1954) and then served two years in the Army Medical Corps in Paris. During that time he became intrigued by questions concerning the immune system, and upon his return to the United States he enrolled at Rockefeller Institute (now called Rockefeller University) in New York City. He earned his Ph.D. in physical chemistry in 1960 and continued his immunological research as a member of the faculty at Rockefeller, becoming a full professor in 1966.

      As a graduate student, Edelman began to study antibodies, and by 1969 he and his colleagues had constructed a precise model of an antibody molecule. Edelman's group narrowly beat a rival group of British investigators led by Porter to this goal. Both researchers were awarded the Nobel Prize for the enormous contributions they made to the field of immunology.

      In the 1970s Edelman shifted his research to focus on questions outside of immunology: specifically, how the body—the brain in particular—develops. In 1975 he discovered substances called cell adhesion molecules (CAMs), which “glue” cells together to form tissues. Edelman found that, as the brain develops, CAMs bind neurons together to form the brain's basic circuitry. His work led to the construction of a general theory of brain development and function called neural-group selection, which he explained in a trilogy of books (1987–89) for a scientific audience and in Bright Air, Brilliant Fire (1992) for laypersons.

      From 1981 Edelman served as director of the Neurosciences Institute, which he founded at Rockefeller University. In 1993 he moved the institute to La Jolla, California, where he also formed and chaired (1992) the neurobiology department of the Scripps Research Institute.

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Universalium. 2010.

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