|Mutagenic Effects of Nuclear Fallout
During the mid-1950s, Pauling started campaigning for world peace by discussing the
science behind nuclear weapons and the potential health hazards of nuclear fallout.
In 1963 he was awarded the 1962 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. In the late 1950s
and 1960s, Pauling occasionally mentioned molecular disease when talking about the
repercussions caused by nuclear fallout and typically drew one connection between
the two topics – genetic mutations and their resultant birth defects. By discussing
radiation's infliction of human suffering through mutagenic effects and potential
health hazards, Pauling substantiated his call for world peace and a ban on nuclear
To clarify his point about molecular diseases, Pauling discussed sickle cell anemia.
By this time, Pauling could draw upon the experimental work completed by Ingram in
1956 and 1957 in which Ingram had ascertained the difference between sickle cell hemoglobin
and normal hemoglobin. Ingram had found that of the 300 amino acid residues in hemoglobin,
only one differs; whereas normal hemoglobin has a glutamic acid at one of its loci,
sickle cell hemoglobin has valine at the same locus. According to Pauling, Ingram's
work gave credence to the idea that a gene mutation altered the amino acid sequence
of hemoglobin, which in turn changed its structure and caused sickle cell anemia.
Although the historical circumstances behind the gene mutation from normal to sickle
cell hemoglobin could not be determined, Pauling used the example of sickle cell anemia
to show how the replacement of one amino acid produced molecular disease in humans.
In other words, if the replacement of one amino acid in hundreds could cause the deadly
disease sickle cell anemia, then the potential hazard from gene mutations caused by
nuclear fallout could cause comparable suffering or worse.
Click images to enlarge
"Scientists Explore Origins of Life, Dr. Pauling Says." October 22, 1957.
"Origin of Molecular Biology and Molecular Medicine" and "No More War." May 20, 1986.
"If the bomb testing had gone on at the same rate for a few more years, it would have
meant that...according to my calculations, which seem to have been essentially right,
millions of children, infants, would have been born with gross physical and mental
defects that otherwise would not have had the defect and millions of people would
have died of cancer at an earlier age than otherwise."