Gerald Maurice Edelman

Gerald Maurice Edelman

American biochemist whose contributions in elucidating the chemical structure of antibodies won him (with Rodney Porter) the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1972. He also proposed an influential theory of change within the human nervous system.
Edelman studied at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School (M.D., 1954). After two years in the Army Medical Corps in Paris, he went to Rockefeller University in New York City, earning his Ph.D. in 1960 and then joining the faculty. Working at Rockefeller, Edelman and his research team succeeded (1969) in constructing a precise model of an entire antibody molecule, which was found to be a four-chain structure consisting of more than 1,300 amino acids. Edelman and his team were then able to identify the precise locations on the molecule where antigenic binding occurs.

Edelman became a full professor at Rockefeller University in 1966. His subsequent research focused on morphogenesis--i.e., the formation and differentiation of tissues and organs. As director of the Neurosciences Institute at Rockefeller University from 1981, Edelman tried to construct a general theory of neural development and brain function, which he discussed in his book Neural Darwinism: The Theory of Neuronal Group Selection (1987). In place of the traditional view of the human nervous system as a fixed and immutable structure, Edelman argued that neural systems change and evolve. Those connections used frequently tend to be maintained, while those that are not decay or are used for other purposes. Neuronal connections are selected for use on the basis of both developmental (i.e., inherited) factors and on experiential ones. Edelman's theory of a human brain that modifies itself continually in response to incoming signals acquired increasing influence among neuroscientists by the end of the 20th century.

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