How I was infected with ID
It was a dreary winter morning in 1986 and a 9.00am lecture by Conrad Lichtenstein (shown here...he was a bit younger then!) in the second year undergraduate “Molecular Biology” module. It was a little cluster of lectures on the bacterial virus called “Lambda” and what made up for the dreary winter morning was that Conrad Lichtenstein was the best lecturer in the undergraduate course… enthusiastic and full of energy, wit, excitement and enjoyment of science. The subject was how different genes can be switched on and off and how this is controlled. It turns out that the virus has two possible infection options 1. Infect and hide quietly as part of the bacterial DNA – it does this when life is good and all the economic indicators for growth are positive. 2. Infect and reproduce as fast as possible and burst the host cell- it does this when life is tough and economic indicators are down.
The focus of the lectures was that this is a model for the method that is used in biology for controlling two possible programs of gene expression. There are two possible programs and there is an environmentally sensitive switch between the two. The switch is useless to the virus without the two programs and one of the two programs is useless without the environmentally sensitive switch.
I found the unfolding of this whole story intensely exciting and thrilling… it is a marvellous piece of science! The thing however that made this experience memorable was that this little circuit with its elegant little switch thundered to me INTELLIGENCE, ELEGANCE, and DESIGN! It literally shouted at me that I was looking at someone else’s invention… and it was amazing! I wanted to jump on my seat, shout hurrah and dance down the aisles of the lecture room… (I refrained) It was the conjunction of the elegance of the scientific discovery and the elegance of what was sitting there in front of me that combined to result in my excitement. I will never forget it! Eureka!
I understand that there are those who believe that switches and circuits in biology can happen and put themselves together to do useful things…but they should at least accept that explaining how they do it is a good deal more difficult than providing a detailed molecular pathway for the evolution of antibiotic resistance etc.
Imperial College Biochemistry lectures used to be in the dark building below the tower in the picture above.