June 12, 2011

Open letter to Laura Manuelidis
Yale School of Medicine
Yale Surgery
PO Box 208062
New Haven, CT 06520-8062 
203 785 4442

Dear Dr. Manuelidis:
I read with interest the article about you (The Prion Heretic, Jennifer Couzin-Frankel SCIENCE vol. 332 no. 6033 May 27, 2011 page 1024)  This is entirely outside of your field of interest, but if the article is to be trusted that never bothered you before.  So if you have a moment to do think-ups, try this one.

Sex chromosomes aside, we have two copies of each chromosome (or critical part of each chromosome if you must), one from each parent.  If two sibling rabbits in a valley share a chromosome those chromosomes are about as similar as two chromosomes get to be.  One rabbit hops across the valley and a glacier comes through splitting the valley for 2,000 rabbit generations.  (It might well be 3,000 but don’t try going to 20,000 or we will have to look at some data.)  When the glacier melts, the offspring of those two can get together but the chromosomes are too different.  They cannot make another rabbit.  That is called speciation. 

Next let us say there are 1,000 rabbits in the valley and they mate at random.  Since there are 2,000 copies of that chromosome, it will take on average about 2,000 generations for the two chromosomes to get back together.  They are too different.  The whole valley dies.

I have been able to model this with a computer program.  They might just make it at 1,000 but you can see the problem.  If speciation is going to happen in finite time, that imposes a finite limit on the size of any random mating population in the long run. 

1,000 generations, even 1,000 rabbit generations is a long time.  The population will leak into surrounding populations.  That means the whole species dies.

Since it is clear that there are still animals around, evolution must have come up with a fix even though few humans see the problem at all.  The fix is quite simple.  Limit population size.  And a brief glance at natural history will show you species after species doing just that.  And if that fails, evolution has a more drastic response.  Fertility falls.  And it does not take 1,000 generations for that to happen.  Since the dead zone is a population of about 1,000, nature must move in within about 10 generations.  And so she does.  Here are some references:
R. Sibly et al., Science 309 607 (2005). 
A. Helgason et al., Science 319 813 (2008).
R. Labouriau, A. Amorim Genetics 178 601 (2008).
R. Labouriau, A. Amorim Science 322 1634 (2008).

The first article reviews more than 1,000 animal studies.  The other studies are of humans.  And as you will see, it is always the same story.

I have a great deal more supporting data hoarded up at nobabies.net with the most recent summary the March 18 Vancouver poster.  (Ignore the computer runs.  As the poster points out, the program was flawed.)

But simply piling up data does not seem to serve any purpose.  People just don’t “get it.”  Sure there are too many people in the world.  But a casual look at statistics shows an impending collapse.  Besides, whatever you want to do with the theory, this has to do with babies, and there is simply no other subject nearly as important.  We need to understand it.  But the blindfolds are on.  Maybe it is some kind of hangover from eugenics.  That miserable school taught that you must never ever marry kin.  But obviously if people don’t, people will die out.

You mentioned to Jennifer Couzin-Frankel that you say you, “Can’t think a straight sentence.”  I think as if my brain were in galoshes.  When I do have a new idea it doesn’t seem new to me at all.  It has happened before.  I glanced at some numbers once and saw immediately that soldiers returning from combat in Vietnam were dying about as fast at home as they had been dying at the front.  That time it only took two years to persuade people that there was a problem.  This time it has been ten or fifteen.  But maybe it calls for somebody with a special gift of mind to interpret it.

By the way, I see with satisfaction that your are being treated as a heretic a lot more nicely than Stanley Prusiner was when it was his turn.  I hope this means that people are getting nicer.

Let me know what you think.


M. Linton Herbert MD
Harvard Med School ‘69

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