A Wiki about biochemical individuality


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  • Published the first description of an antibody in the Lewis system in 1946 . Lewis system antibodies are some of the most frequently encountered in pre-transfusion or pre-natal screening. Anti-Lewis (a) is the most frequent antibody in the Lewis system, is often naturally occurring and is of the IgM class. Anti-Lewis (b) exists in two forms: one reacts only with Le(b+) cells of the A2 or O type (anti-LebH) while the other reacts with all Le(b+) cell regardless of ABO type.
  • Published first comprehensive work on blood groups and disease. (Mourant AE, Kopec AC. Blood group and disease. Oxford: Oxford University Press, London, 1978)
  • Published first comprehensive work on blood groups and anthropology since Boyd. (Mourant, AE (1985): Blood relations: blood groups and anthropology. Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford.)


Arthur Mourant (1904-1994)

Arthur Mourant, who brought a new dimension to biological anthropology, died of a heart attack on August 29, 1994. Arthur Ernest Mourant was born on April 11, 1904, near La Hougue Bie, Jersey, United Kingdom. He attended the Jersey Modern School and Victoria College, receiving the King's Gold Medal for Modern Languages in 1921 and the King's Gold Medal for Mathematics in 1922. Also in 1922 Mourant was awarded the King Charles' I Scholarship, which took him from Jersey to Oxford. In Oxford he spent 10 years at Exeter College, obtaining his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1925, first class honors in chemistry in 1926, and a Doctor of Philosophy in geology in 1931. His dissertation was on the geology of the Channel Islands.

Unable to obtain a post in geology during the Depression, Mourant took a complementary course in medical chemistry, returned to Jersey, and set up a chemical pathology laboratory (1933-38). In 1939 Mourant returned to his studies, this time in medicine, at the age of 34. At St. Bartholomew's Medical College, London, he gained the degrees of Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery in 1943, and Doctor of Medicine in 1948. After house posts in London, Mourant became Medical Officer at the Galton Laboratory Serum Unit and in 1946 was the founder and first director of the Blood Group Reference Laboratory, London, a position that he held for 20 years.

Mourant's breadth of expertise made him a pioneer, the first hematologist to attack the problems of worldwide blood group distributions. Not only did Mourant collate and map the existing data on blood group gene frequencies, but he also contributed much to the genetic map of the world in his numerous investigations of blood groups in many populations. As knowledge of the newer polymorphisms grew, Mourant absorbed these data into his compendia and incorporated them into his anthropological interpretations. His first book, 'The Distribution of the Human Blood Groups', was published in 1954. The second edition, much enlarged and virtually a new book, 'The Distribution of the Human Blood Groups and Other Polymorphisms', was published in 1976. These books drew together practically everything on blood groups that had been published in the world by that date. In doing so, Mourant not only appraised and utilized material in available publications but also extracted from his enormous circle of friends and acquaintances their unpublished materials for inclusion.

Mourant's other books are 'The ABO Blood Groups' (1958), 'Blood Groups and Disease' (1978), 'The Genetics of the Jews'(1978), and 'Blood Relations' (1983). His numerous papers range far more widely than gene frequency studies in different populations and include reports of his discoveries of the new blood group antigens of the Lewis, Henshaw, Kell, and Rhesus systems, analyses of the associations of blood groups and various diseases, other aspects of the biological significance of polymorphisms, and nonhuman studies (e.g., the serological characterization of fish stocks and cattle breeds).

Mourant's work on blood groups and other polymorphisms provided the foundation for the new anthropology because it allowed for the separatingout of genetic evidence for biological relationship from other, not purely genetically determined characters previously used for that purpose. It provided the material against which the theories of population genetics could be examined. The impact of Mourant's work extended beyond the confines of anthropology. It affected medicine itself, correlations between genetics and some diseases, problems of transfusion, and public health.

Many of those about to undertake serological fieldwork in the years following the Second World War will remember the encouragement and enthusiastic support that they received from Mourant and his indefatigable scientific associates in the laboratory, Elizabeth Ikin and Don Tills, and at the calculating machine, Ada Kopec. In the human adaptability section of the International Biological Programme, Mourant played a key role by advising on the genetic component and participating in a number of surveys.

After the Second World War, William Boyd's baton as compiler of blood group data from around the world passed to the Englishman Arthur Mourant. A native of Jersey in the Channel Islands, Mourant originally took a degree in geology but was unable to translate that training into a career. His very strict Methodist upbringing had caused him considerable emotional unhappiness, which he determined to resolve by becoming a psychoanalyst. To do this he decided first to study medicine and enrolled, at the relatively late age of thirty-four, in St Bartholomew's Medical School in London.

This was in 1939, just before the outbreak of the Second World War. To avoid the German bombing raids on the capital, his medical school was moved from London to Cambridge, and it was here that he met R. A. Fisher, the most influential geneticist of his day. Fisher had been working out the genetics of the new blood groups which were being discovered, and he had become fascinated by the particularly convoluted inheritance of one of them – the Rhesus blood group. This new group had been discovered by Karl Landsteiner and his colleague Alexander Wiener in 1940 after they mixed human blood with the blood of rabbits that had themselves been injected with cells of the Rhesus monkey (hence the name).

Fisher had come up with a complicated theory to account for the way in which the different sub-types within the group were passed down from parents to their children, and this was being violently attacked by Wiener who had offered a much simpler explanation. Imagine Fisher's delight when the new arrival, Arthur Mourant, discovered a large family of twelve siblings which provided the practical proof of his theory. Fisher found him a job at once, and the meticulous Mourant spent the rest of his working life compiling and interpreting the most detailed blood group frequency distribution maps ever produced. He never did become a psychoanalyst.

As well as being instrumental in getting Arthur Mourant a job, the Rhesus blood groups were also about to play a central role in what people were thinking about the origins of modern Europeans and in identifying the continent's most influential genetic population — the fiercely independent Basques of northwest Spain and south-west France. The Basques are unified by their common language, Euskara, which is unique in Europe in that it has no linguistic connection with any other living language. That it survives at all in the face of its modern rivals, Castilian Spanish and French, is remarkable enough. But two thousand years ago, it was only the disruption of imperial Roman administration in that part of the empire that saved Euskara from being completely swamped by Latin, which was the fate of the now extinct Iberian language in eastern Spain and south-east France. The Basques provided us with an invaluable clue to the genetic history of the whole of Europe, as we shall see later in the book, but their elevation to special genetic status only began when Arthur Mourant started to look closely at the Rhesus blood groups.(1)



Human Biology, Apr 1997 by Derek F. Roberts


1. Sykes, Brian The Seven Daughters of Eve. WW Norton, Publishers, New York, NY. 2001