Serendipity does work, but needs financial supportYour...


September 09, 1997

Serendipity does work, but needs financial support

Your Aug. 28 editorial pointing out the importance of serendipity in scientific research is right on target. Serendipity has played a higher role than many people realize in scientific and medical advances that have changed our lives.

In 1928 Alexander Fleming discovered a mold ''contaminating'' his lab cultures of staphylococci, a mold that changed the world -- now known as penicillin.

In 1983, while driving a twisting, moonlit road, a California scientist named Kary Mullis suddenly realized that nature's process of replicating DNA could be accelerated the same way that time-lapse photography of a flower blooming can be compressed from 24 hours to 20 seconds. This technique, called polymerase chain reaction (PCR), has revolutionized the field of molecular biology, making the identification of disease genes and gene therapy possible.

More recently, while trying to develop a cholera vaccine, my own research group inadvertently discovered a secondary toxin produced by the cholera bacteria. Called Zot, the protein turned out to be the key that unlocks a natural gate in the intestines. It showed us a new and effective way to deliver insulin and other injectable drugs by mouth.

Serendipity has been the touchstone of many a medical advance. But without adequate funding for basic science research -- laboratory research on cells, molecules and genes -- serendipity can lead us nowhere.

As the great scientist Louis Pasteur, the father of pasteurization, said, ''Chance favors the prepared mind.'' If we as a society aren't doing the basic research that reveals the underlying mechanisms of health and disease, we as researchers aren't going to be prepared to take advantage of serendipity when it occurs.

Alessio Fasano, M.D.


The writer is professor of pediatric gastroenterology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Israel wrongly cast as the villain

Jonathan Power's Aug. 29 article, ''Losing war for peace in Middle East,'' reflects a blindness to reality that stems from ignorance or prejudice or both.

To Mr. Power, the villains are the democratically elected government of Israel and the ''American Jewish lobbies'' and the innocent victims are Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians.

Mr. Power is either unaware of or chooses to ignore the following: In the Oslo Accords that Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed in 1993, the PLO pledged to fight terrorism. Since these accords, more than 250 Israelis have been murdered and more than 1,000 have been wounded and maimed by Arab terrorists.

In these accords, the PLO recognized Israel's right to exist. The PLO still has not changed its covenant, which denies Israel's right to exist and advocates ''armed struggle to liberate Palestine,'' a geographic term that, to the PLO, encompasses Israel.

In these accords, the PLO pledged to refrain from anti-Israel propaganda. Yasser Arafat, senior PLO officials and the PLO-controlled media (newspapers, radio, and television) are producing a constant stream of extremely vitriolic anti-Israel propaganda, including the praising of terrorists as ''martyrs'' and the description of the terrorist bombings as ''military operations.''

Harry L. Rashbaum


World ban needed on land mines

Since the death of Princess Diana, we have learned of the many good causes in which she was involved. Not the least of these causes was the global ban on anti-personnel mines.

During the past several years, the media have not been remiss in portraying the ghastly effects of this horrendous military practice, and so there are few of us who would not agree with the princess and support this ban. I was shocked therefore to see in the Sept. 3 edition of The Sun the headline ''U.S. seeks exception for defensive land mines in Korea.''

Land mines kill or wound 26,000 people a year, about 80 percent of them civilians, often decades after a conflict has ended. Under any conditions these weapons should be outlawed in their entirety with no exceptions.

Can any military objective outweigh the horrors that these mines will someday inflict? I doubt it. Or is our concern mitigated by Korea's lack of proximity. How would we Americans feel if the mines were being installed across our own ''fruited plains''?

William F. Eckert

Ellicott City

Can't force those who refuse to learn

In reference to Gregory Kane's Sept. 3 column (''Frustration, anger drive teacher from city schools''), I would like to say that Baltimore City public schools have no education problems. They have massive social and economic problems, which should be somebody else's responsibility.

The definition of education is the systematic dispensation of knowledge by those who are qualified to teach to those who are willing to learn.

Note the emphasis on ''willing."

We have a duty to give every willing child an education. We swear no oath to force it upon the unwilling.

They may join us whenever they wish.

John G. Barry


Bing was no refugee on these shores

The headline of the Sept. 4 editorial, ''Rudolf Bing, immigrant,'' struck me as odd. Bing was ''invited'' to head the Metropolitan and I do not see how you can call ''obscure'' somebody who had organized the Edinburgh Festival.

Immigrants arrive here in many ways, and unquestionably their contributions as well as those of their descendants have been enormous.

To stick to New York and music, we can cite the example of Leonard Bernstein, who was the child of immigrants and yet was hailed as the first American-born music director of the New York Philharmonic. All previous ones were foreigners and invited.

Bing was certainly a great man, but to mold our immigration laws by his example is at best dangerous. Immigrant is one thing, refugee another and invited artist or scientist still another.

Peter C. Sotiriou


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