Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Born on this Day Deciphering Diversity

25 October 2018

Deciphering Diversity

When fending off dangerous intruders, our body’s strength comes from diversity. Antibodies, our molecular security system’s frontline warriors, specifically bind to and neutralise countless potential threats. How they lock on to such varied molecules was hotly debated for years until Marian Koshland – born on this day in 1921 – showed with elegant experiments in the 1960s that different antibodies were formed of different amino acids [the building blocks of proteins]. Rather than all being alike and adapting to incomers, a large stock of antibodies each fends off specific molecules, like having different outfits for every occasion instead of just making one work for any event. This revelation helped steered the debate towards the understanding that underpins immunology today. Koshland’s career spanned six decades, included countless discoveries – including the J chain, a key part of antibody structure that allows them to move through the body – and powered the field of immunology forward.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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