Mutations and Malaria: Pauling’s Adventure in Genetics

Pastel drawing of Hemoglobin at 100 angstroms, 1964.

During the 1940s, Pauling had established sickle-cell anemia as a molecular disease, a pioneering concept that synthesized biology and chemistry in a revolutionary manner. Other interests had pulled him away from this important work, however, for the better part of a decade.

Then, in the early 1960s, he was introduced to research suggesting that rates of malaria infection in areas with a high rate of sickle-cell anemia were greatly reduced. On top of this existing research, Pauling also came across a reference to a particularly interesting African legend regarding the origin of malaria resistance. Intrigued, he decided to dig a little deeper and, before long, he had dedicated a small portion of his lab to the problem.

Early in his research, Pauling found that the protozoan parasites responsible for malaria were not able to penetrate and replicate in sickled blood cells — e.g, cells containing deformed hemoglobin. Even more interesting, Pauling discovered that individuals with only one sickle-cell allele did not suffer from the effects of sickle-cell anemia but were still highly resistant to the malaria disease.

By examining these findings, Pauling developed a set of basic rules explaining the sickle-cell and malaria interactions. They are as follows:

1. Individuals with only normal hemoglobin do not possess the deformed hemoglobin molecules present in individuals possessing either one or two sickle-cell alleles. As a result, these individuals are not resistant to malaria.
2. Those with the homozygous recessive sickle-cell trait suffer from sickled blood cells, resulting in a variety of health complications including stroke, ulcers, bacterial bone infection, kidney failure, and heart problems. Victims of the dominant form of sickle-cell anemia have a significantly shorter lifespan than the average human, often dying in infancy. Nevertheless, these individuals are not afflicted by the malaria disease.
3. Other individuals are heterozygous for the sickle-cell trait, meaning that they experience some sickling of the blood cells, but enough of their blood cells appear normal that they are able to survive without experiencing the health difficulties associated with sickle-cell anemia. Like those with the full sickle-cell anemia disease, these individuals enjoy significant resistance to the malarial disease.

Pauling stated that the human populations inhabiting malarial zones in Central Africa were becoming predominantly comprised of heterozygotes. He explained that an individual homozygous recessive for the sickle-cell trait would probably die before reaching sexual maturity, therefore not producing any children with the sickle-cell disease. Those without the sickle-cell trait would be vulnerable to malaria. In malarial regions, this group would have a high mortality rate, many of them dying before reproducing. The third group, those with only one sickle-cell allele, does not suffer from the effects of full sickle-anemia and are immune to malaria. As a result, these individuals are best suited to malarial regions and are able to procreate, giving birth to more heterozygotes who can, in turn, continue the genetic trend.

The sickle-cell trait is a hereditary disease, passed from parent to child in the Mendelian fashion. Each parent provides the child with one of the two alleles which will determine whether the child will have normal or sickled blood. Two individuals with sickle-cell anemia will invariably produce children with sickle-cell anemia. A pair in which one parent has sickle-cell anemia and the other is a carrier (meaning they have one trait rather than two) will have a 50% chance of producing a child with sickle-cell anemia and a 50% chance of producing a child with only one sickle-cell allele. A couple in which both parents carry only one sickle-cell allele will have a 25% chance of producing a child with sickle-cell anemia, a 25% chance of producing a child without the sickle-cell trait, and a 50% chance of producing a child with only one sickle-cell allele.

The following series of Punnett squares demonstrates the transfer of alleles in the case of sickle-cell anemia:

Sickle-Cell Anemia Punnett Square

Based on this thinking, Pauling argued that only the people with one sickle-cell allele would live to have children, approximately 50% of which would be born with one sickle-cell allele. He argued that this trend could continue indefinitely, probably until a mutation eliminated the sickle-cell disease entirely, leaving all peoples in malarial zones homozygous for an anti-malarial gene.

Listen: Pauling on the effect of sickle cell disease on the spread of malaria

With his theory firmly in place, Pauling turned his attention to sickle-cell anemia in non-malarial zones. Pauling was primarily concerned with the presence of sickle-cell anemia in the African American population of the southeastern United States. Because malaria is not endemic to the southern U.S., Pauling feared that a positive mutation was unlikely to occur, and the sickle cell mutation was not being removed from the gene pool as quickly as new, harmful mutations were occurring. As a result, the number of individuals suffering from sickle-cell anemia could only continue to increase.

In order to counteract this trend, Pauling spoke out in support of eugenics as a means of controlling and gradually diminishing the presence of sickle-cell anemia in the United States.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Pauling made headlines by giving talks on the subject. He was introducing the concept of beneficial mutations to a public not necessarily comfortable with certain implications of the phenomena. The humanitarian components of his efforts earned him praise from various medical groups, though his advocacy of eugenics created some concern among politicians, religious conservatives, and secular ethicists alike.

For more information on Pauling’s work with sickle-cell anemia and malaria, visit It’s in the Blood or take a look at the OSU Special Collections homepage.

The Importance of the Concept of Molecular Disease

The idea of Dr. Linus Pauling that an abnormal hemoglobin molecule might be responsible for the sickling process initiated the study of the hemoglobin molecule in hereditary anemias.
– Harvey Itano. “Clinical States Associated with Alterations of the Hemoglobin Molecule.” Archives of Internal Medicine, 96: 287-97, 295. 1955.

During his lengthy career, Linus Pauling maintained a long-running interest in the relationships between chemistry and the human body. In the mid-1930’s, he began to work extensively with the hemoglobin molecule. As we’ve seen in previous posts, this research would eventually lead to many important discoveries and his coining of the term “molecular disease.”

Sickle cell anemia was the first disease to be classified as a molecular disease. As was mentioned in this post, Pauling first learned of the disease in the spring of 1945 when Dr. William B. Castle, a physician and Professor of Medicine at Harvard University, described it at a meeting of the Medical Research Association. As Dr. Castle listed off the characteristics of the disease, Pauling, through the prism of his deep knowledge of the structural chemistry of hemoglobin, developed an almost-immediate formulation of sickle cell anemia as a disease of the hemoglobin molecule, rather than of the entire blood cell.

Listen: William Castle recounts his first meetings with Linus Pauling…

Listen: …and Pauling responds in kind

A few months later, Pauling would pass this idea on to Harvey Itano, who was completing his doctorate in chemistry at Caltech. Itano conducted a series of initial experiments on the hemoglobin molecule, all of which failed. After months of tedious investigation, however, Itano, Dr. S. J. Singer and Dr. Ibert C. Wells – both of them newly-minted Ph.D.’s – were able to use the techniques of electrophoresis to identify a significant distinction. The paper “Sickle Cell Anemia, a Molecular Disease” was then published in the fall of 1949 and the concept of molecular disease was instantly established.

Listen: Pauling describes the Itano, Singer and Wells electrophoresis experiments

Although Pauling wasn’t the first to think about diseases in terms of molecular aberrations, no one prior to the Pauling-Itano group had concretely demonstrated their existence. After their initial success, Singer and Itano continued to expand on the original research, eventually discovering a less-severe case of sickle cell anemia called sicklemia. The duo also described the manner in which sickle cell anemia is inherited. As such, not only did Pauling and his colleagues identify the exact source of the disease, they also provided a link to genetics and confirmed Pauling’s view that analysis on a molecular level can provide valuable information. Later, Itano would discover more abnormal hemoglobin molecules, and the molecular analysis of diseases would continue.

Since Pauling’s coining of the term “molecular disease,” many other diseases have been similarly categorized: Hemophilia, Thalassemia, Alzheimer’s Disease and Muscular Dystrophy to name a few. (Though it could also be argued that every heritable disease can be classified as a molecular disease because these diseases require a modified genetic component that can be passed from parent to child.)

Thalassemia, for example, is also a disease of the hemoglobin molecule. However, while sickle cell anemia is caused by the production of abnormal hemoglobin, Thalassemia, conversely, involves the abnormal production of hemoglobin. More specifically, in cases of Thalassemia, the rate of production of a specific globin chain is decreased, which then causes the formation of abnormal hemoglobin molecules.

Pauling’s conceptualization of sickle cell anemia as a disease of the hemoglobin molecule jump-started years of research pertaining to abnormal hemoglobins and opened many new doors in the study of inherited diseases. Although he wasn’t directly involved in the discovery of the abnormal hemoglobin molecules, Pauling’s development of the concept of molecular disease was achievement enough to significantly raise his stature in the medical community (at least for a while) and further cement his status as a scientist of world-historical importance.

For more information on molecular disease and other related topics, please visit the website “It’s in the Blood! A Documentary History of Linus Pauling, Hemoglobin, and Sickle Cell Anemia.”

Pauling’s Theory of Sickle Cell Anemia

It's in the BloodWe owe to Pauling and his collaborators the realization that sickle cell anaemia is an example of an inherited ‘molecular disease’ and that it is due to an alteration in the structure of a large protein molecule, an alteration leading to a protein which is by all criteria still a haemoglobin.
– Vernon M. Ingram, 1957.

Of the four Documentary History websites that the OSU Libraries Special Collections has produced, “It’s in the Blood!  A Documentary History of Linus Pauling, Hemoglobin and Sickle Cell Anemia” is, in certain respects, the most unique.

For one, “the blood site” — its usual in-house appellation — is the only of our Documentary Histories not to have been written by Pauling biographer Tom Hager.  On the contrary, the idea for the blood site arose out of a history of science master’s thesis that Melinda Gormley — then a graduate student and now a professor at OSU — developed from research done in the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers. As Dr. Gormley documented in this article (PDF, see pp. 8-9) it took the better part of two years to repurpose the text of her dissertation into a format suitable for the web.

Gormley’s thesis topic was relatively broad — “The Varieties of Linus Pauling’s Work on Hemoglobin and Sickle Cell Anemia,” (PDF, 1.8 MB) — and, as a result, the swath of content covered in the website is similarly wide.  The website begins its narrative in 1930, ends it in 1994, and along the way discusses Pauling’s contributions to areas ranging from immunology to Scientific War Work to evolutionary theory to orthomolecular psychiatry.  All of these topics will be addressed in future posts on this blog.

The heart of the blood site, however, is Pauling’s research on sickle cell anemia. Sickle cell anemia is a terrible disease that predominantly effects inhabitants of sub-Saharan Africa or those who can trace their lineage to that region.  The disease is a painful one, characterized by drastically-malformed red blood cells, and manifesting itself in a host of health maladies and, often, shortened lifespans.

Many folks who are semi-acquainted with the Pauling legacy know that he was, in some way, important to the modern understanding of sickle cell anemia.  But how? Well, Linus Pauling was the first individual to correctly theorize that sickle cell anemia is a disease that locates its source to the molecular level — in the process Pauling likewise became the first individual to postulate the concept of a molecular disease.

What then, exactly, was Pauling’s theory of sickle cell anemia?  That is the question that we aim to explore in this post.

Linus Pauling probably wasn’t a true freak-of-nature genius in the manner of an Einstein or a Mozart.  On the contrary, the likely secret of his profound success as a scientist was at least threefold in nature: 1) he possessed a relentless work ethic; 2) he was a very clear and concise thinker who conceptualized his ideas well and understood the efficiencies inherent to leading teams of researchers as opposed to going it alone; 3) and most importantly, he was deeply interested in, and capable of concretely understanding, radically-disparate areas of scientific study.  All three of these traits reveal themselves in the sickle cell anemia story.

Pauling first encountered the problem of sickle cell anemia rather by accident.  At a dinner in 1945, Pauling sat in the audience of an informal presentation by physician Dr. William Castle, wherein it was noted that the shape of red blood cells in sickle cell patients varied depending on whether the blood was venous or arterial —  normal in arterial blood, sickled in venous blood.  Clearly this suggested that the oxygen content in sickle cell blood played a major role in its molecular architecture. By his own recollection, “within two seconds,” Pauling concluded that the oxygen piece of the equation suggested that hemoglobin must be involved in the sickling mechanism — a conclusion that he could reach because of his keen understanding of the structural chemistry of hemoglobin.

In 1960, Pauling provided this description of his initial thoughts on how malformed hemoglobin could lead to sickled red blood cells.

…immediately I thought, “could it be possible that this disease, which seems to be a disease of the red cell because the red cells in the patients are twisted out of shape, could really be a disease of the hemoglobin molecule?” Nobody had ever suggested that there could be molecular diseases before, but this idea popped into my head. I thought, “could it be that these patients can manufacture a special kind of hemoglobin such that the molecules are sticky and clamp on to one another to form long rods, which then line up side by side to form a long needle-like crystal, which as it grows inside of the red cell becomes longer than the diameter of the cell and thus twists the red cell out of shape?”

From here, Pauling delegated many of the details necessary to verifying his thinking on the sickle cell problem to a team of Caltech graduate students led by Harvey Itano.  (This was common practice for Pauling, and helps explain how he was able to generate over 1,100 published papers in ninety-three years of living)  Using a variety of methods including electrophoresis, the Itano team, in the words of a 1950 Caltech press release

found a difference – slight but still unmistakable – between normal hemoglobin and that of a sickle-cell anemia patient.  Sickle-cell hemoglobin proved to have a greater positive electrical charge, under the proper chemical conditions, than did the hemoglobin from a normal person.  Such a difference in electrical properties can only mean a difference in molecular architecture, in the way in which the hemoglobin molecules are constructed.

In other words, Pauling was right: sickle cell anemia was a molecular disease and malformed hemoglobin was the cause.

In 1956, an English chemist named Vernon Ingram, using a new technique called fingerprinting, (Pauling provides a rather technical description of the method here) proved conclusively that sickle cell anemia was an inherited disease as well.  Moreover, sickle cell anemia was found to be caused by an astonishingly small change at the molecular level.  Physicist John Hopfield described it this way

On the surface of the ten-thousand atom molecule, there is a slight change. A small group of a few atoms on the edge of the molecule is replaced by another small group of atoms. That’s all that happens – an exchange of a few atoms. Yet it’s enough to make people very ill. The effect of the change is to create a sticky point between an abnormal molecule and its neighbor, causing molecules to pile up on each other.

Just as Linus Pauling predicted, after dinner, in 1945.

Linus Pauling, Vitamin C and the AIDS Crisis

Ewan Cameron, Ava Helen and Linus Pauling.  Glasgow, Scotland, October 1976.

Ewan Cameron, Ava Helen and Linus Pauling. Glasgow, Scotland, October 1976.

Many orthomolecular substances are so free from toxicity that they show beneficial effects over a 10,000-fold range of concentrations. Yet if you take even ten times the amount of aspirin that many patients take, for example, you’d be dead; hundreds of people do die every year from aspirin poisoning. And all of the other major drugs are highly toxic as well.
– Linus Pauling, December 1986

Today, December 1, 2008, is World AIDS Day. In honor of the fight against AIDS, The Pauling Blog would like to discuss Pauling’s own attempts to find a cure.

Beginning in the early 1930s, stemming from early investigations into the chemical nature of hemoglobin, Linus Pauling became deeply interested in the application of chemistry to medical problems.  Once involved in a long-term study of the substance, he began to recognize the significance of hemoglobin to the health of individuals. In 1949, Pauling coined the term “molecular disease” in reference to a mutation in hemoglobin cells that caused sickle cell anemia.

His interest in medicine did not stop there, however. During World War II, Pauling designed a meter to measure oxygen levels aboard U.S. submarines. He later converted this meter to be used in incubators for premature babies with underdeveloped lungs, saving thousands of lives in the process.

In the early 1970s, Pauling developed an interest in the use of megadoses of vitamins as a means for both preventing and treating disease. He became particularly interested in vitamin C because, even in huge doses, it proved to be non-toxic.  Pauling began recommending its use to prevent colds and other illnesses, eventually suggesting that a high-dosage vitamin C regimen could help cancer patients by fortifying the immune system and potentially destroying carcinogens.

With the onset of the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s, Pauling saw potential for another area in which vitamin C could be put to good use. Though he did not officially endorse vitamin C as a treatment for AIDS until the early 1990s, he commonly noted its possible benefits and lack of side effects.

In 1988, Pauling headed a study on the effects of vitamin C in combating the AIDS virus, measuring the impact that ascorbic acid had on infected T-cells. The results, though not extraordinary, were promising.

In 1990, Pauling and his colleagues published the results of their study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, claiming that vitamin C appeared to suppress the growth of the AIDS virus. As was true of Pauling’s previous claims regarding vitamin C and orthomolecular medicine, the studies were at least a source of intrigue to many, though likewise dismissed by a wide cross-section of the medical community.

At the same time that Pauling was embarking on his AIDS research, Ewan Cameron, a researcher at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine in Palo Alto, approached Pauling regarding a book he was writing entitled The AIDS Disaster. The book was meant to serve as a comprehensive study of the AIDS virus, describing its history, socio-political context, and related research.

Cameron requested that Pauling serve as co-author, editing the book and providing a chapter on vitamin C and AIDS. Pauling agreed and, in late 1988, the book was completed. Due to a variety of publishing issues, the text never reached bookstore shelves, but several complete versions of the manuscript are held in Cameron’s papers here at Oregon State University.

Until his death in 1994, Pauling continued to emphasize the responsibility of the scientific community to help cure diseases such as AIDS and cancer. He gave frequent lectures on the subject of orthomolecular medicine and continually worked to increase support for medical research.

For additional reading on Ewan Cameron’s AIDS work and research, check out the Cameron Papers finding aid, hosted online by the OSU Libraries Special Collections.  Please also note that a few more of Pauling’s thoughts on the treatment of AIDS with ascorbic acid are linked off of this index page from the Linus Pauling Research Notebooks website.

Pauling’s Methodology: Electrophoresis

Diagram of a Tiselius electrophoresis apparatus.

Diagram of a Tiselius electrophoresis apparatus.

[Electrophoresis image extracted from the published version of Arne Tiselius’ Nobel lecture, December 13, 1948.  A digitized version of this lecture is available here courtesy of the Nobel Museum.]

The item of $7,500 for apparatus, supplies, animals would permit us to use the large number of animals required for some of our projected researches, and should permit also the construction of a Tiselius apparatus for the electrophoretic separation of antibody fractions by the suggested method of combination with charged haptens, and for other investigations.
– Linus Pauling, budget request letter to Warren Weaver. January 2, 1941.

Though, by the late 1930s, X-ray crystallography had become important to Linus Pauling’s research on the structure of complex organic proteins, the newly developed technique of electrophoresis eventually became the technology that defined his work on sickle cell anemia.  Indeed, Pauling was one of the first in a generation of scientists to effectively use the technique of electrophoresis to explain a biological phenomenon.

Lying at the core of Pauling’s interest in sickle cell disease was this question: What really made normal hemoglobin and the hemoglobin from someone suffering from sickle cell anemia different? Though Pauling and his fellow researchers theorized that the answer lay in differences between the structures of the hemoglobin molecules themselves, and also figured that magnetic properties somehow played a role, they had yet to find or develop a method suitable for testing their ideas.

As it turned out, Pauling and his colleagues had to do both: they found and they developed.

The Pauling group seized upon the new technique of electrophoresis but manipulated it considerably to fit their own research agenda. Pauling attributed the idea of using electrophoresis in the first place to one of his graduate students, Harvey Itano. Later Pauling and Itano sought advice, assistance and collaboration with others who were also using the technique, including Karl Landsteiner and Arne Tiselius, both accomplished researchers and close colleagues of Pauling’s. After the construction at Caltech of an electrophoretic machine, Stanley Swingle, a general chemistry instructor at the Institute, developed a number of mechanical improvements while Harvey Itano and Seymour Jonathon Singer conducted research using the apparatus.

After much trial and error, electrophoresis emerged as one of the more important experimental methods used to determine the difference in electrical charge between normal hemoglobin and sickle cell hemoglobin.

Listen:  Pauling discusses the evolution of electrophoresis work at Caltech

The results of Pauling’s electrophoretic experiments, reported in his group’s groundbreaking 1949 paper, “Sickle Cell Anemia, a Molecular Disease,” promoted the argument that sickle cell anemia was not only a pathology resultant of differential protein folding patterns, but that it was also inherited in a simple Mendelian pattern. In other words, sickle cell anemia was both ‘molecular’ and ‘genetic,’ and by seeing it as such, Pauling suggested certain therapies that directly addressed both the structural and the genetic components of the disease.

Even as late as the 1960s Pauling was still looking for ways to use electrophoresis in his research. He mentions, in a handwritten note, that of the ‘likely developments’ in biology, control of molecular and genetic diseases could possibly be obtained through the “electrophoresis of sperm.”

(Though the idea may sound strange today, Pauling was an advocate for the controversial notion of positive eugenics — that is the planned and controlled production of healthy offspring, primarily through genetic counseling. We’ll talk more about this component of Pauling’s thinking in a later post.)

In more ways than one, electrophoresis was a new technology that required the coordinated effort of a number of trained individuals. Though it took several years to fine-tune both the method and the instruments, the results were well worth the wait.

To learn more about Linus Pauling’s use of electrophoresis, please visit the website It’s in the Blood!  A Documentary History of Linus Pauling, Hemoglobin and Sickle Cell Anemia.

Thinking Structurally: The Roots of Pauling’s Hemoglobin Work

Pastel drawing of Hemoglobin at 20 angstroms, 1964. Drawing by Roger Hayward.

Pastel drawing of Hemoglobin at 20 angstroms, 1964. Drawing by Roger Hayward.

Linus Pauling is one of that select group of individuals whose lives have made a discernible impact on the contemporary world. His contributions to molecular chemistry have been substantial and fully deserving of the recognition that he received in the form of a Nobel Prize in chemistry….Pauling continued to do productive scientific work throughout his lifetime, making a second outstanding contribution in his discovery of the molecular processes involved in sickle-cell anemia. This discovery, if made by anyone who was not already the only person to receive two unshared Nobel Prizes, might well have merited a third prize in medicine.
– Ted Goertzel. “Linus Pauling: The Scientist as Crusader.” Antioch Review, 38 (1980): 371-382. 1980.

Two of Linus Pauling’s greatest scientific discoveries, his work on the nature of the chemical bond and the discovery of molecular disease, both hinged on his distinctly structural approach to scientific problems.

Having written a doctoral dissertation on the determination of the molecular structure of inorganic compounds in crystalline state, Pauling chose hemoglobin as an object of study in part because he knew that it was hemoglobin’s changing structure that allowed it to carry oxygen to the tissues of the body. While Pauling like to joke that he chose to work on blood because it was easy to obtain, the intellectual challenge of explaining the sigmoid curve of oxygen saturation in hemoglobin profoundly sparked Pauling’s scientific interest.

Later, upon learning about the disease sickle-cell anemia, Pauling came to recognize that the potentially molecular and structural basis of the disease could facilitate a deeper investigation into structural studies of the molecule. Hemoglobin, in part because of its association with the bonding and transport of iron atoms, demonstrated extremely changeable magnetic charges and suggested, even from a preliminary acquaintance, the importance of structural changes in chemical function.

By 1934, when Pauling suggested hemoglobin as the organic molecule of choice for his particular research program, he had already laid out a general plan of research that relied heavily on investigations into the structural and electrically-charged nature of organic molecules. In May of 1935, Pauling wrote in his research notebook

At this time I have analyzed the oxygen equilibrium data to make plausible the idea that in hemoglobin the four hemes are arranged at the corners of a square on one side of the globin, being interconnected along the edges of the square, and that in the hemochromogens the hemes are independent of one another; and I have outlined a general program of investigation, consisting mainly of magnetic studies and x-ray studies (anomalous dispersion, radial distribution about iron atoms).

In a way, Pauling had always been thinking structurally about the nature of the hemoglobin molecule, its ability to bind oxygen molecules and, later, its particular pathology in the case of sickle-cell anemia.

In 1937, Pauling delivered an inaugural lecture for the Sigma Xi society of Corvallis, in which he asserted both the importance and the relatively-recent arrival of structural chemistry as a discipline. For Pauling structural chemistry involved “the determination of the structures of molecules – the exact location of the atoms in space relative to one another – and the interpretation of the chemical and physical properties of substances in terms of the structure of their molecules.”

This lecture, entitled “Hemoglobin and Magnetism,” addressed the “new branch of chemistry, modern structural chemistry” through a discussion of some of Pauling’s most recent work on hemoglobin’s magnetic properties.

“It’s in the Blood!” A Revised, METS-based Website

Pastel drawing of a hemoglobin molecule by Roger Hayward, 1964.

Pastel drawing of a hemoglobin molecule by Roger Hayward, 1964.

“It [hemoglobin] is a good substance from the standpoint of a chemist, because of its availability. All you need to do is to catch somebody, introduce a hypodermic needle and draw out a sample of blood. A standard victim of this practice, weighing perhaps 120 pounds (it’s easier to catch them small!) contains in the red corpuscles in his blood one and two-tenths pounds of hemoglobin.”
– Linus Pauling, 1966.

Some reasonably big news to share today. As announced here, we have launched a revised and expanded version of our 2005 release “It’s in the Blood!  A Documentary History of Linus Pauling, Hemoglobin and Sickle Cell Anemia.”

Similar to the revised version of our “Nature of the Chemical Bond” documentary history website, which was launched this past February, the “second edition” of “It’s in the Blood!” contains a ton more content: the final tally runs to 53 new letters, 458 pages of added manuscripts and papers, 18 new pictures and 11 new audio and video clips.  The metadata for all of the site’s content is drastically improved as well — a fact that is most immediately evident on the various Key Participants pages, which have been transformed from rather spartan affairs to content-rich resources like this page devoted to Harvey Itano.

Aside from the self-evident benefits of adding more content to our pages, revising the older documentary histories has also prompted our digitization work more in the direction of a uniform METS-based platform.  We’ll talk a lot more about them at a later time, but for now it’s sufficient to define METS records as all-in-one containers for digital objects.

We use METS (Metadata Encoding and Transmission Standard) and MODS (Metadata Object Description Schema – both are flavors of XML) not only to describe a scanned item in a qualitative sense, but also to define how the item displays on a page.

For example, the METS record that “powers” the hemoglobin molecule above includes an internal i.d., the date and creator of the record, the image caption and it’s copyright data, the creator of the image (Roger Hayward) and any individuals or organizations associated with it. (Linus Pauling, in this case, since the drawing was published in Pauling and Hayward’s The Architecture of Molecules.)  The record also stores the date of the item’s creation (1964), and the genre type of the original document. (We use the Library of Congress’ Basic Genre Terms for Cultural Heritage Materials as our genre authority.  The Hayward item is defined by BGTCHM as an “illustration.”)

The METS record also defines certain display characteristics that are then interpreted by the XSL stylesheets that build our HTML pages.  Again using our hemoglobin molecule as an example, the METS record which defines the object’s output declares that it can be displayed at one of four different sizes.  The 150-pixel width display is used for all images inserted as Narrative sidebar images (Hemoglobin is on this page), as well as all images aggregated onto a given All Documents and Media index page. (Hemoglobin is about 3/4 of the way down the Pictures and Illustrations index.)  A 400-pixel width version will be used in a revised version of our “Linus Pauling Day-by-Day” project, which we hope to launch later this year.  The 600-pixel width “reference images” display like this, and the 900-pixel width big kahunas look like this.

METS records take a while to create, but the payoff is well worth the effort.  The flexibility that METS provides both within and across projects is of huge importance to us — when building really big websites and/or multiple websites with subject matter that tends to overlap, (the documentary histories, the Day-by-Day calendar and the Pauling Student Learning Curriculum, e.g.) it is way more efficient to be able to describe an object once but use it again and again.

Right now, “Linus Pauling and the Race for DNA” is the last of our documentary history sites still requiring METS attentions.  Once it’s revised, we’ll be able to start thinking concretely about providing different types of portal views and search tools for our growing METS cache (well over 3,000 records currently), an eventuality that promises a whole new range of possibilities for our entire digitization workflow.  But that’s a different topic for a different day…

Pauling Postage Stamp to be Released Tomorrow

Tomorrow at noon, the United States Postal Service will officially issue a series of postage stamps recognizing four prominent American scientists, one of whom is Linus Pauling. Ceremonies marking the release will be held jointly in the Memorial Union Ballroom at Oregon State University as well as in New York City. The Corvallis affair will feature talks by Linus Pauling, Jr., Pauling biographer Thomas Hager, Steve Lawson of the Linus Pauling Institute, and Corvallis postmaster John Herrington, who will be cancelling envelopes with a special commemorative postmark. More information on the event can be found here and here.

Pauling — who, incidentally, was an avid stamp collector himself — is being honored for his research on sickle cell anemia. Pauling’s Nobel Peace Prize portrait is the likeness on which the USPS issue is based, while the background of the stamp incorporates sickled red blood cells similar to these drawn by Roger Hayward for his and Pauling’s 1964 publication, The Architecture of Molecules. The 2008 USPS issue looks like this:


While the sickle cell anemia stamp is the first U.S. issue honoring Pauling, four previous stamps bearing his likeness have been created for sale, beginning with a 1977 release by the Republic of Upper Volta. Now known as Burkina Faso, the West African country once derived a meaningful percentage of its national revenue through the issuance of stamps.

In 2001 the Caribbean nation of Antigua & Barbuda recognized Pauling in a series commemorating the one-hundredth anniversary of the Nobel Prize (which also happened to be the Pauling centenary as well). The Federated States of Micronesia followed suit one year later, including two Pauling stamps in a series on Twentieth Century Peacemakers.

Click on the thumbnail below for a closer look at all four of these earlier releases.