James V. Neel
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James Van Gundia Neel (March 22, 1915 – February 1, 2000) was an American geneticist who played a key role in the development of human genetics as a field of research in the United States. He made important contributions to the emergence of genetic epidemiology and pursued an understanding of the influence of environment on genes. In his early work, he studied sickle-cell disease and thalassemia conducted research on the effects of radiation on survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bombing. In 1956, Neel established the University of Michigan Department of Genetics, the first department of human genetics at a medical school in the United States. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1971.
Neel developed the "thrifty gene hypothesis" that paleolithic humans, facing long periods of hunger punctuated by brief periods of food surplus, would have adapted genetically by processing fats and carbohydrates more efficiently during feast periods, to be physiologically resilient during periods of famine. Neel believed that this genetic adaptation might have created a predisposition to type 2 diabetes mellitus. This theory was later discredited by research conducted by Neel himself.
Of particular interest to Neel was an understanding of the human genome in an evolutionary light, a concept he addressed in his fieldwork with cultural anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon among the Yanomamo and Xavante in Brazil and Venezuela. His involvement in this fieldwork came under heavy scrutiny and criticism in the Darkness in El Dorado controversy, a scandal in anthropology that broke in 2000 involving numerous allegations of unethical research that threatened serious damage to Neel's reputation. The accusation is that Neel deliberately injected South American natives with virulent measles vaccine to spark off an epidemic which killed hundreds and probably thousands. However, these claims against him were never substantiated with evidence and it was found later that the measles outbreak predated his arrival.
Neel was deeply involved with a number of prominent organizations through the course of his career, including, but not limited to: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Philosophical Society, Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, National Research Council, Pan-American Health Organization, Radiation Effects Research Foundation, University of Michigan, and World Health Organization.
He testified several times before committees and sub-committees of the United States Congress as an expert witness regarding the long-term effects of radiation on human populations.
- 1960 Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research
- 1965 William Allan Award
- 1974 National Medal of Science
James van Gundia Neel Papers
The professional papers of James V. Neel are held in the archives of the Library of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, PA.
- Weiss, K. M.; Ward, R. H. (March 2000). "James V. Neel, M.D., Ph.D. (March 22, 1915–January 31, 2000): Founder Effect". American Journal of Human Genetics. 66 (3): 755–760. doi:10.1086/302793. ISSN 0002-9297. PMC 1288160. PMID 10712193.
- "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter N" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
- Neel, James V. (December 1962). "Diabetes Mellitus: A "Thrifty" Genotype Rendered Detrimental by "Progress"?". American Journal of Human Genetics. 14 (4): 353–362. ISSN 0002-9297. PMC 1932342. PMID 13937884.
- Neel, James V.; Weder, Alan B.; Julius, Stevo (1998). "Type II Diabetes, Essential Hypertension, and Obesity as "Syndromes of Impaired Genetic Homeostasis": The "Thrifty Genotype" Hypothesis Enters the 21st Century". Perspectives in Biology and Medicine. 42 (1): 44–74. doi:10.1353/pbm.1998.0060. ISSN 1529-8795. PMID 9894356.
- "Scientist 'killed Amazon indians to test race theory'". The Guardian. 23 September 2000.
- Lindee, Susan (2001). "James Van Gundia Neel (1915-2000)". American Anthropologist. 103 (2): 502–505. doi:10.1525/aa.2001.103.2.502. ISSN 1548-1433.
- Genetic linkage methods, 1960 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award
- 1949 The Inheritance of Sickle Cell Anemia. Science 110: 64-66.
- 1967 The Web of History and the Web of Life: Atomic Bombs, Inbreeding and Japanese Genes. Michigan Quarterly Review 6:202-209.
- 1994 Physician to the Gene Pool: Genetic Lessons and Other Stories. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
- James V. Neel, M.D., Ph.D. (March 22, 1915–January 31, 2000): Founder Effect
- James V. Neel, U-M Professor and Father of Modern Human Genetics, Died Feb. 1 At Age 84
- Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society Vol. 146, No. 1, Mar., 2002
- Key Participants: James V. Neel - It's in the Blood! A Documentary History of Linus Pauling, Hemoglobin, and Sickle Cell Anemia
- James V. Neel Is Dead at 84; Leading Genetics Researcher
- James V. Neel — Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences