My namesake and North American father of pharmacology, John Jacob Abel, was a celebrity in absentia at the recent Experimental Biology meeting of the American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET). In Nature, Jill Adams reported on an effort to mark the 100th anniversary of the society next year by having members determine their “Abel number” – their degrees of removal from having published with the man who discovered epinephrine, first crystallized insulin, and founded departments of pharmacology at both Michigan and Johns Hopkins.
Now, of course, Abel is not the true father of pharmacology. He trained with the German pharmacologist, Oswald Schmeideberg, to whom most pharmacologists seek to trace their lineage. Complicating issues further is that Schmeideberg trained with Rudolf Buchheim at Dorpat, and Buchheim called himself a pharmacologist. But, hey, if you’ve got Abel bagged, you’ve got the links to the old country as well.
This lovely photo is courtesy of my colleague, Shelley Batts of Retrospectacle, from an exhibit at her own University of Michigan. (Shelley also provided the small portrait to the left in my profile.).
Members of the American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET) were swept up in a game, akin to playing six degrees of separation, in which researchers compete to be the most closely related to the man regarded as the field’s founder: John J. Abel.
Thanks to a project initiated by David Bylund of the University of Nebraska in Omaha, attendees were wearing large pins proclaiming their pedigree. “How did you get to be a 3?” and “I got myself down to a 5,” became the hot conversation starters at society mixers.
Sadly, I have to claim that I cannot even calculate my Abel number. Like many pharmacologists of my generation, I trained in a department of pharmacology under molecular biology mentors who had no direct link to the Abel lineage. Had I trained with other profs in my department, my Abel number would be 5 or 6. However, with my pedigree the number will be far greater than 6.
A close look at the database to date reveals that of Abel’s 27 co-authors, Eugene M. Gelling gave rise to most of today’s Abel descendants. Gelling’s co-author, Kansas professor emeritus John Doull, then gave rise to the greatest number of today’s Abel-linked scientists. Interestingly, Doull is best known for his work in toxicology and as co-author of the defining textbook of the discipline, Casseret and Doull’s, “Toxicology: The Basic Science of Poisons.”
If you are a pharmacologist, what’s your Abel number?
(Hat tip: Bill Hooker)