Shock As Nobel Prize for Molecular Biology Given to Medic

Oct 04 2010 Published by under Education, Medicine & Health, Silliness

This year's Nobel Prize for Molecular Biology has been controversially awarded to Prof Robert Edwards for his pioneering work on in-vitro fertilisation. Prof. Edwards' work in developing "test tube babies" has helped the conception and birth of 4 million people around the world, starting with first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, in 1978. Whilst it is acknowledged that this work was ground-breaking and of major significance, there has been wide-spread criticism that the prize has been awarded for work in medicine and physiology, rather than in molecular biology, for which the prize was originally intended.

"I'm shocked" said Prof. Philip Mickelson of the North Oregon Teaching Hospital Institute of Nuclear Genetics, "the Nobel committee has finally stretched the meaning of the prize beyond breaking point".

Dr. Andrew McDowell of the British Organisation for Molecular Biology agreed, stating "this is ludicrous. What's the point in going into molecular biology if some physiologist is going to nick your big prize?"

Environmentalists were also critical of the prize, pointing out that it was being awarded for work that had increased our over-population problems. Greenpeas and Friends of the Planet both released statements condemning the Karolinska Institute as "irresponsble", and "encouraging behaviour that will speed up the destruction of this planet and all we hold dear". Pope Benedict, in contrast, praised the award, stating in a press release that "this prize can only encourage those who chose to have children to conceive and birth as many as their family can support".

A statement released to the press by the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm acknowledged the controversy, stating "the committee felt that, despite its name, the prize had been too narrowly focussed on molecular advances and some recognition should be made of research in other areas of biology". The spokesman pointed out that the prize has been awarded to research outside its immediate scope of molecular, most noticeably in 1973 when it was awarded for work in animal behaviour.

There is concern that this will mark a trend in this year's prizes. Dr. Edward Molinari of the European Institute of Biochemistry admitted he was worried about Wednesday's award. "Just looking at the bookies' odds, it's clear that everyone is panicked. It's looking more likely that this year's Nobel Prize for Biochemistry will be awarded to someone who doesn't even work on living organisms. Heaven forbid, but they might even be an inorganic chemist".

Odds on President George W. Bush winning the Peace Prize have not shortened, however.

17 responses so far

  • Dr Aust says:

    Second the thought, Bob - molecular biologists do have a well-deserved reputation for being rather molecul-o-centric - or not being able to see beyond the end of their protein sequence, if you prefer.

    One correction, though - 2010 winner Bob Edwards is a physiologist, and definitely NOT a medic. He doesn't even have a medical degree, which at some stages may even have cost him in terms of MRC funding (see here for details). The medical bit of the pioneering IVF partnership was surgeon/Obs & Gyne doc Patrick Steptoe (1913-1988).

    • Bob O'H says:

      Oops, thanks for the correction. I'm not going to change it, though: most people think of it as the prize for medicine, so it might confuse them.

      TBH, I was slightly surprised he wasn't awarded the prize years ago.

      • Dr Aust says:

        I think a lot of people are surprised it has taken this long, Bob - they reached 1000 IVF births just before Patrick Steptoe died way back in 1988, and Bob Edwards got the Lasker Prize back in 2001. I think he is so frail and unwell now that it may be a case of "now or never".

  • Albatrossity says:

    Hilarious post, Bob!

    BTW, what are the odds of Bush (or Cheney, for that matter) winning the Peace Prize?

    • Bob O'H says:

      That depends on which state you're in. I'd suggest going out of state to place a bet, or even abroad. The odds will be much better for you.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    I have read a number of accounts of him winning the prize for medicine.

    • Bob O'H says:

      A lot of people forget the "or physiology" bit.

      • Dr Aust says:

        Well, it IS really a medical discovery, AND a piece of applied physiology. It is actually a brilliant illustration of how years of basic physiology and applied research (e.g. in animal fertility and breeding) can finally generate a major medical advance. Which of course is what physiologists always hope will happen with their work.

  • HP says:

    This is old, but the Onion just pushed it out to their RSS feed today in honor of the occasion: Nobel Fever Grips Research Community As Prize Swells To $190 Million

  • John says:

    As you can see no american has won the Nobel in either medicine, chemistry or physics. That is the sad state of american science in most labs where there are no more scientists left. Love for science has been replaced by politics, bickering, grudging, making money and touting oneself as scientist when they are not. American top scientists claiming that they work 365 days a year in interviews when you see them basically pressurizing foreign born scientists to produce results and breaking them down in the process. Love of science is not here anymore sadly. Science will improve only when you take tenureship out and make these jobs like everyone else. Why tenure people when they dont deserve it and the ones that get tenured are not necessarily capable but are the ones who kissed up to the boss most.

  • douglas says:

    Am I missing something here? Since when has there been a Nobel Prize for Molecular Biology? If this was sarcasm. it sure wasn't obvious to me. Maybe there is a MB Prize in a parallel universe. I thought there were prizes for Medicine, Chemistry, Physiology, Literature, and of course, Peace. If anyone cares, my vote for the latter is Greg Mortenson (Three Cups of Tea author, http://www.gregmortenson.com)

    • Bob O'H says:

      Sorry for the delay in getting this approved - I didn't see it in the queue.

      Over the past few years, the prize for "medicine or physiology" has been given to molecular biologists, which struck me as moving outside its remit (albeit not as far as the Tinbergen et al. prize). Hence the basis of the joke that it's the Nobel for molecular biology.

      BTW, you forgot the prize of physics.

  • roche says:

    This is of course controversial, but personally I think that the prize was deserved. Can I share a couple of excellent, educational videos that directly related to molecular biology? The videos are titled “The Inner Life of the Cell” and “Powering the Cell: Mitochondria”. http://www.americanbiotechnologist.com/blog/molecular-animation/

  • Raiful Tompkins says:

    What I thought was so weird about the prize for invitro-fertilization was how far the Nobel organiztion's account deviated from what really happened. As I recall, about a year before Louise Brown was born there was a rumor circulating in literary circles that some European had had a clone made of himself, and that the project was going to be the subject of a fictionalized account, not yet published. Ms. Evelyn Gross in charge of Contemporary ob/gyn, a McGraw-Hill publication, along with an executive named Marv Rowlands, sought to exploit the clone rumor to generate copy for her magazine by asking a likely authority whether or not there could possibly be any truth to it. She had sent a writer named Jane Ross to interview a British Obstetrician Gynecologist named Patrick Steptoe as a credible source on the subject of developing reproductive technologies, on the premise that Steptoe himself had done some work on in vitro fertilization, mainly to get him to finally answer the question as to whether or not a human clone was possible. To set up his answer Ms. Ross interviewed Steptoe about his work with Edwards that so far had resulted in the disaster of a tubal pregnancy. Steptoe talked about his work, said he thought the ectopic that occurred had something to do with giving drugs to hyperstimulate the ovary to control timing of ovulation, said he had found he could predict ovulation remarkably precisely with a product called Hi-Gonavis, and probably didn't even need to give those drugs anymore to be successful in retrieving an ovum. He lamented that after the ectopic had occurred his superiors had moved him to Oldham and District Hospital in Lancashire. He was having trouble collaborating with Edwards, who had the culture medium, because Edwards, was in Cambridge. He said that in a few short months he, Steptoe, was going to reach the British Health Service mandatory retirement age, and that would be the end of his work. It was my job to whittle the extraneous out of Ms Ross' transcript of the interview, and what it said simply surprised me. Ms. Gross said I should call Steptoe on the telephone to find out whether or not he had already done the in vitro successfully and was just keeping it quiet, and to verify some of the things he'd said in the interview so that I could use them for blurbs in the margins of the pages. That meant the magazine would agree to pay for the overseas call, which was not inexpensive. When I introduced myself Steptoe may have mistook my name for someone else he knew who was prominent in Fertility and Sterility work, but I didn't deliberately mislead him. When he asked me where my given name came from, I told him it was like something out of Porgy and Bess. In our conversation Steptoe distinguished between reimplanting a fertilized ovum into the uterus of the original mother, and transplanting it to the uterus of a surrogate mother. He said he hadn't done the fertilization and reimplantation yet, but that he was making plans with Edwards to go that way. They intended to simplify their experiment by using a natural cycle, and incubating the fertilized ovum in culture about the length of time usually required for transit of an ovum through the fallopian tube, before putting it back into the woman who produced the egg. He ended his interview with Jane Ross by saying that he thought he'd know about it if anyone in the business had made a human clone, so don't believe the clone rumor. Of course we all know today whether cloning humans is possible. So Steptoe is passed on now, but it is fair to say that in vitro fertilization was his project, and Edwards was collaborating with him on it, not the other way around. How anyone could figure that piece of science could go into the history books without talking about Steptoe, and Shettles, and that bunch who were working on infertility problems at the same time is something to ponder. But really, Steptoe didn't need no Nobel Prize anyway. I think he got what he wanted, as did Shettles and all the others, too.