Polioforever's Blog

Karl Landsteiner

 Karl Landsteiner (1868-1943)                                               

Karl Landsteiner was born in 1868 Austria, son of newspaper editor/lawyer Leopold Landsteiner and Fannie Hess. Leopold Landsteiner cofounded the Austrian daily newspaper “Die Presse” http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/475363/Die-Presse [with August Zang http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/August_Zang]  and died when only child Karl was six.

In 1901, K.L. discovered the blood types A, B, O, which were later followed by M, N, and P during his time at the Rockefeller Institute. “During the early 1900s, Karl Landsteiner clearly demonstrated that there was apparently no discernable limit to the range of antibodies that an animal could produce. His finding that antibodies could even be produced in response to completely novel artificial substances revealed that the animal could not possibly possess in its finite genome the information required to produce an infinite number of all possibly necessary antigens. This led to the rejection of Ehrlich’s theory [germ line theory] and to the constructivist theories of antibody production. Such constructivist theories had to account for the fact that the immune system was not only adapted to the task of producing fit antibodies, but that it was adaptive as well, able to create new puzzles of fit in response to completely unpredictable and novel antigens.” http://faculty.ed.uiuc.edu/g-cziko/wm/04.html

Discovering the blood groups http://www.genetics.org/cgi/reprint/155/3/995.pdf

M and N types in primates http://www.jimmunol.org/cgi/content/abstract/33/1/19 


“[Landsteiner]  also showed that the cause of poliomyelitis could be transmitted to monkeys by injecting into them material prepared by grinding up the spinal cords of children who had died from this disease, and, lacking in Vienna monkeys for further experiments, he went to the Pasteur Institute in Paris, where monkeys were available. His work there, together with that independently done by Flexner and Lewis, laid the foundations of our knowledge of the cause and immunology of poliomyelitis.”  http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1930/landsteiner-bio.html

..”Earlier, in 1901-1903, Landsteiner had suggested that, because the characteristics which determine the blood groups are inherited, the blood groups may be used to decide instances of doubtful paternity. Much of the subsequent work that Landsteiner and his pupils did on blood groups and the immunological uses they made of them was done, not in Vienna, but in New York. For in 1919 conditions in Vienna were such that laboratory work was very difficult and, seeing no future for Austria, Landsteiner obtained the appointment of Prosector to a small Roman Catholic Hospital at The Hague. Here he published, from 1919-1922, twelve papers on new haptens that he had discovered, on conjugates with proteins which were capable of inducing anaphylaxis and on related problems, and also on the serological specificity of the haemoglobins of different species of animals. His work in Holland came to an end when he was offered a post in the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York and he moved there together with his family. It was here that he did, in collaboration with Levine and Wiener, the further work on the blood groups which greatly extended the number of these groups, and here in collaboration with Wiener studied bleeding in the new-born, leading to the discovery of the Rh-factor in blood, which relates the human blood to the blood of the rhesus monkey.”


“In 1908 Landsteiner took charge of the department of pathology at the Wilhelmina Hospital in Vienna. His tenure at the hospital lasted twelve years, until March of 1920 [though we know from the biography sketches above that ‘important’ lab work was done at the Paris Pasteur and in Holland]. During this time, Landsteiner was at the height of his career and produced fifty-two papers on serological immunity, thirty-three on bacteriology and six on pathological anatomy. He was among the first to dissociate antigens, which stimulate the production of immune responses known as antibodies, from the antibodies themselves. Landsteiner was also among the first to purify antibodies, and his purification techniques are still used today for some applications in immunology….One day in 1908 the body of a young polio victim was brought in for autopsy. Landsteiner took a portion of the boy’s spinal column and injected it into the spinal canal of several species of experimental animals, including rabbits, guinea-pigs, mice and monkeys. Only the monkeys contracted the disease. Landsteiner reported the results of the experiment, conducted with Erwin Popper, an assistant at the Wilhelmina Hospital.”  http://www.pbs.org/wnet/redgold/innovators/bio_landsteiner.html
Erwin Popper http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erwin_Popper



Google e-book “Species and Specificity” references Lansteiner’s early carreer and his move to the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research.



“In the first hundred years of the history of immunology, the question of species and specificity were the core problems of research and practice in immunology. The old botanical dispute about the nature of species, which has its roots in the classical Western thought of Aristotle, reappeared in the late nineteenth century in the disputes of bacteriologists, to be followed by their students, the immunologists, immunochemists, and blood group geneticists. In the course of this controversy, Mazumdar argues, five generations of scientific protagonists make themselves aggressively plain. Their science is designed only in part to wrest an answer from nature: it is at least as important to wring an admission of defeat from their opponents. One of those on the losing side of the debate was the Austrian immunochemist Karl Landsteiner, whose unitarian views were excluded from the state health and medical institutions of Europe, where specificity and pluralism, the legacies of Robert Koch and Paul Ehrlich, were entrenched.”


Part I. Specificity and Unitarianism in XIX Century Botany and Bacteriology: 1. The Unitarians; 2. The Linnaeans; 3. The dominance of specificity; 4. The history of XIX century bacteriology from this point of view; Part II. The Inherited Controversy: Specificity and Unitarianism in Immunology: 5. Dichotomy and classification in the thought of Paul Erlich; 6. Max von Gruber and Paul Erlich; 7. Max von Gruber and Karl Landsteiner; 8. Unity, simplicity, continuity: the philosophy of Ernst Mach; Part III. Chemical Affinity and Immune Specificity: The Argument in Chemical Terms: 9. Structural and physical chemistry in the late XIX century; 10. Erlich’s chemistry and its opponents: the dissociation theory of Arrhenius and Madsen; 11. Erlich’s chemistry and its opponents: the colloid theory of Landsteiner and Pauli; 12. Erlich’s chemistry and its opponents: the new structural chemistry of Landsteiner and Pick; 13. The decline and persistence of Erlich’s chemical theory; Part IV. Absolute Specificity in Blood Group Genetics: 14. Immunology and genetics in the early XX century; 15. The specificity of cells and the specificity of proteins; 16. The last confrontation; Conclusion.”


Landsteiner’s scientific view of ultra-liberal ‘unitarianism’ was politically outside the established dogma. He believed in the plasticity of lifeforms and universal principles in biology, a mindset that earned him the invitation to practice at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research.

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