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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Nobel Laureate: Michael Behe


The Nobel Prize in Biochemistry 2009.

"for his contributions to understanding complex biological systems"

Michael Behe (1952 - ) wins the Nobel Prize in Biochemistry for his amazing work on complex biological systems, especially the concept of irreducible complexity.

Beginning with the publication of his first book, Darwin's Black Box, Behe has written numerous articles on the organization of molecular machines such as the snare complex of Mus musculus and the bacterial flagellum. He has shown that these systems exhibit a fundamental property that previous biochemists overlooked—they are so well integrated that their origin cannot be explained by the older naturalistic theory of natural selection.

His later work, The Edge of Evolution, is a seminal contribution to modern evolutionary theory. In that book he explains how previous versions of evolution are incapable of explaining the origin of protein-protein interaction sites.

The presentation speech highlights the importance of this work.
Nobel Laureates
The development of protein features, such as protein-protein binding sites, that require the participation of multiple amino acid residues is a profound, fundamental problem that has stumped the evolutionary biology community until the present day (and continues to do so, as I explain below). It is a fundamental problem because all proteins exert their effects by physically binding to something else, such as a small metabolite or DNA or other protein, and require multiple residues to do so. The problem is especially acute for protein-protein interactions, since most proteins in the cell are now known to act as teams of a half-dozen or more, rather than individually. Yet if one can’t explain how specific protein-protein interactions developed, then it is delusional to claim that we can explain how anything that depends on them developed, such as the molecular machinery of the cell. It’s like saying “we understand perfectly well how a car could evolve; we just don’t know how the pieces could get fit together.” If such a basic requirement for putting together complex systems is not understood, nothing is understood. Keep this in mind the next time you hear a blithe Darwinian tale about the undirected evolution of the cilium or bacterial flagellum.

Posted on April 1st, 2009.

The images of the Nobel Prize medals are registered trademarks of the Nobel Foundation (© The Nobel Foundation). They are used here, with permission, for educational purposes only.


  1. "the snare complex of Mus musculus" - brilliant.

  2. First I was horrified; now, I'm embarrassed. I've been April fooled.

  3. His later work, The Edge of Evolution, is a seminal contribution

    I'm sure that must be a misprint. I think you meant "urinary."

  4. Well, I knew it was a tract. Now I know what kind.

  5. I was counting on Augustus P. Rilfull to win it based on the paper Wilkins wrote about. Lateral Gene Transfer

    Well, good for Mike. He deserves this one.

  6. Sorry - typo. Ignobel prize. Ignobel prize.

  7. @Jonathan Eisen

    Are you talking about the famed awards given by the Journal Of Improbable Research? The ones that are described as

    The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative -- and spur people's interest in science, medicine, and technology.

    Hmm... I'm afraid it would be just as much of an April Fools joke for Behe to win an ignobel.

  8. Don't you mean the Nobel Prize for Fiction?

  9. Bayesian, I'm sure you are correct, it HAS to be urinary. If I give my limited imagination free rein to consider this as even the remotest likelihood of reality, it is without question one of the most repulsive ideas imaginable (regardless of how good an April Fool's joke it is). And how many decades has it been since Behe did any real science??


  10. Re Jonathan Eisen

    Real men ride on tubulars.

  11. was the peace nobel prize to Kissinger also an april fool's jopke?