Humor from the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research

A typographical error

Hans Krebs was arguably one of the three most influential biochemists of the 20th century (along with Otto Warburg and Fritz Lipmann). He is known for the discovery of the Krebs cycle, the most famous pathway in biochemistry, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology in 1953. After a stint at Sheffield University in England, he joined the faculty at Oxford University to head the Unit for Research in Cell Metabolism. The first batch of stationery for the Unit contained an unfortunate typographical error. It read " Unfit for Research in Cell Metabolism."

On humility, or the lack thereof 

Otto Warburg was one of the most influential biochemists of the 20th century. He received the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology in 1931 for his work on respiratory (oxygen-utilizing) proteins. He also performed pioneering studies on carbohydrate metabolism, tumor metabolism, and other subjects. Moreover, several of his trainees later received the Nobel Prize. The following quotation delivered by Warburg provides insight into the character of both Hans Krebs and Warburg. "When Hans Krebs in 1925 appeared at Berlin-Dahlem in the Kaiser-wilhelminstitute of biology, he was a modest thoughtful youth, very intelligent and already wise in spite of his youth. Nearly 40 years later I met him in Dublin at an important meeting. Few scientists were more famous. How civilized he is, I thought, if I compared him, even with myself." Hans Krebs wrote a biography entitled "Otto Warburg: Cell Physiologist, Biochemist, and Eccentric" published by Clarendon Press in 1981.

On a formidable medical student evaluation

Dr. Jack D. Herbert, a founding Director of the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research, received the following anonymous evaluation from a student at LSU Health Sciences Center (New Orleans). Because of his deep resonant voice, my female classmates and I must squeeze our knees together when Dr. Herbert lectures. Dr. Herbert was amused by this evaluation, which he willingly shared.


Peter Mitchell received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1978) for his contribution to the understanding of biological energy transfer through the formulation of the chemiosmotic theory. Some 10 years after the divorce from his first wife, Eileen, Mitchell attended the wedding of their daughter, and he noticed a woman who looked familiar. He asked whether he knew her, and she replied "Yes, I was your first wife." Mitchell was keenly aware of his forgetfulness; he even coined the expression "forgetory", which is the opposite of memory. 

On our expertise

During our previous association with Louisiana State University, we gave lectures on reptile dysfunction to graduate students in pharmacology. Our local expert on this disorder is Alice. So if you want more information on reptile dysfunction, see Alice. 

On hemoglobin

"Homos and heteros among the hemos" is a paper published in Science [185 (1974) 905-908] by Reinhold and Ruth Benesch. This paper compares the properties of homotetramers (β4 and γ4) of hemoglobin with the α2β2 heterotetramer that occurs physiologically. Their initial title "Gay and Straight Hemoglobin" was not accepted by the journal.

On having the right  dissertation advisor

      A rabbit is sunning himself outside his house when a fox comes along and tells him that he is going to eat him for lunch.  The rabbit explains that the fox cannot eat him because he is working on his dissertation, the subject of which is the superiority of rabbits over foxes and wolves.  The fox laughs, but the rabbit persuades him to come into his house and examine his dissertation with the understanding that if the fox did not agree that the title was correct, he could eat the rabbit for lunch.  The fox follows the rabbit into the house and never emerges. A few hours later, the rabbit is sunning himself when a wolf comes by.  The above scene repeats itself with the same result.

         Later in the afternoon a squirrel comes by and comments on the satisfied look on the rabbit's face.  The rabbit explains that he has just completed his dissertation on the superiority of rabbits over foxes and wolves.  The squirrel is skeptical but agrees to follow the rabbit into his house to examine the dissertation.  In the house is a computer on which appears the completed dissertation.  On the floor on one side of the room are the bones of a fox.  On the other side, the bones of a wolf.  In the corner sits a lion.

       The rabbit smiles and says to the squirrel, "You know, it doesn't really matter what your research topic is, as long as you have the right advisor." – Anonymous message on the internet

On mistaken identities

A cab driver picked up a nun, who noticed that the driver wouldn't stop staring at her. "I have a question, but I don't want to offend you," explained the driver. "Oh, you can't offend me," the nun said. "I've seen and heard just about everything." "Well," said the cab driver, "I've always wanted to kiss a nun." The nun, not even blushing, said, "I think I can arrange that. First, you have to be single, and you must be Catholic." "Yes, that's me," said the excited driver. They pulled over, and the nun gave him a big kiss. Back on the road, the cab driver began crying. "I've sinned and feel terrible," he said.  "I'm really married, and I'm a Methodist." "That's okay," said the nun. "My name is Henry, and I'm going to a Halloween Party." From the 7 October 2011 Hendersonville (NC) Times-News.

Absentmindedness and forgetfulness

Norbert Wiener, a noted MIT mathematician, tried to find his way home one evening after he and his family moved to a new home. Accosting a small girl who was approaching in the opposite direction, he inquired whether she might be able to direct him towards Brattle Street. The child giggled "Yes daddy, I'll take you home."

Absentmindedness on a grand scale

Nevill Mott was a distinguished theoretical physicist best remembered for his contributions to solid-state physics for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1977. Mott was traveling on the Paddington to Bristol train when three thoughts occurred to him. First, he was no longer at the physics department in Bristol but Cavendish professor at Cambridge. Second, he had traveled to London earlier that day by car. And third, he had been accompanied by his wife.

On brilliance and native intelligence

Isaac Newton described universal gravitation and developed the field of classical mechanics; he also invented the mathematics of calculus. Many consider Newton to be the most influential scientist of all time. Like many other scientists immersed in theory, such people often have practical shortcomings as suggested by the following. The door in Newton's  home contained a passageway so that his cat could conveniently come and go as she pleased. After his cat had kittens, Newton had his houseman cut a smaller passageway in the door so that the kittens could also enter and exit at will.

On evenhandedness 

Richard Feynman was a brilliant physicist who could calculate almost anything and possessed great insight into the nature of the universe. However, he could not readily distinguish right from left. He was forced to develop various pneumonics and other memory devises so that he would know which direction was toward the right and which direction was toward the left; he couldn't calculate this from first principles. 

A witty intellectual high brow 

After one of Adlai Stevenson’s high-brow speeches, a supporter yelled "You’ll have the vote of every thinking man in America!" Stevenson shouted back "Thank you, but I need a majority to win!"

A witty intellectual low brow

Dolly Parton was asked whether she had considered the idea of running for President of the United States. She replied, "No. I think we have enough boobs in the White House."

A happy supply-sider

As Jack Kemp was testifying at a congressional hearing, his wife and daughter watched from the gallery. Someone behind them asked rhetorically "What does a former football player know about economics?" Mrs. Kemp turned around and said, "He was not a football player; he was a quarterback."

On verbal clarity, or lack thereof

The following quote from Sarah Palin demonstrates the well-honed skills and prowess of the recipient of a BS in communications-journalism from the University of Idaho. "I had great faith that, you know, perhaps when that voter entered that voting booth and closed that curtain that what would kick in for them was, perhaps, a bold step that would have to be taken in casting a vote for us, but having to put a lot of faith in that commitment we tried to articulate that we were the true change agent that would progress this nation." We all know what BS represents. If she had an MS, would we infer that the M refers to moose? You betcha!

On military rank

He's the greatest general since Sergeant York. A quotation referring to General George Patton that was spoken by a soldier in the movie entitled "Patton." 

An adolescent poem with anomalous juxtapositions

Thirty days has September, 

April, June and no wonder,

All the rest eat peanut butter,

Except Grandma,

She drives a Buick.

On naming an unknown sugar

Albert Szent-Györgyi isolated a reducing sugar from paprika, a natural resource for someone of Hungarian descent. He submitted a manuscript to the influential Biochemical Journal that described some of the properties of this sugar whose identity was unclear. He named this sugar ignose ("ose" is a generic suffix meaning sugar while "ignorare" is Latin for not knowing). Arthur Harden, the journal editor and Nobel Laureate in Chemistry in 1927, failed to appreciate this terminology and asked Szent-Györgyi to revise the paper. In the revision, Szent-Györgyi renamed the unknown sugar "Godnose." Harden requested yet another revision.  Norman Haworth, who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1937 along with Szent-Györgyi, finally elucidated the structure of ignose, which is now known as ascorbic acid, or vitamin C.

On the genetics of speech

The following speech from Sydney Brenner addresses the genetics of a complex behavior. "We are about to sequence the chimpanzee genome and some will say that if we subtract the chimpanzee genome from the human genome, we will be left with an extra gene in man, which is the gene for language. And that will be called the Chomsky gene [referring to the celebrated American linguist Noam Chomsky]. But consider the alternative. Maybe what chimpanzees have learnt-learnt in their genomes-is that talking gets you into trouble and they have evolved a language suppressor gene. Of course nobody will allow us, and probably nature doesn't allow us either, to cross chimpanzees and humans to find out which is dominant. But if chimpanzees do indeed have a language suppressor gene, we would have a good name for it: it will be called the Chimpsky gene."

On the origin of life

For an account by Efraim Racker, click here

A gift idea for you and your partner

If you and your partner are pleased with a Sleep Number Bed, click here for a look at a TwoDaLoo, another item that you can share. 

A Blue Ridge collaborator

The Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research has called upon the expertise of Bruce Wayne in solving mysteries of one sort or another on a regular basis. We note that a previous report of his death was in error. We at the Institute appreciate his intellect and expertise in science and technology. Mr. Wayne is currently a denizen of Bat Cave, which is located about 20 miles west of Horse Shoe, the home of the Institute. State Route 64 provides a direct link between Horse Shoe and Bat Cave in Western North Carolina. 

On Edward M. Kennedy

While working in his first campaign for the Senate in 1962 at age 29, Ted Kennedy was take aback at a rally by a Boston working-class stiff who boldly challenged him for having "never worked a day in your life." When Kennedy sheepishly admitted that it was true that he had never held a real job, the man answered light-heartedly to great laughter, "That's okay kid, you really ain't missed very much."

Sydney Brenner on nanobiologists

It takes one thousand nanobiologists to make one microbiologist. – Sydney Brenner

William Safire's rules for writers

William Safire wrote the following rules. Remember to never split an infinitive. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors. Proofread carefully to see if you words out. Avoid clichés like the plague. And don’t overuse exclamation marks!!

Other notable quotes and aphorisms

The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable. –  John Kenneth Galbraith

Nudists in Lakeland, Florida are upset that outsiders are sneaking a peek through a hole in their fence. The police promise to look into it.  – Paul Harvey

A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water. –  Eleanor Roosevelt

Someday Louisiana is going to get good government, and they ain't gonna like it. – Earl K. Long

Life is a sexually transmitted terminal diseaseAnonymous

If Noah had been truly wise, he would have swatted those two flies. Helen Castle

I have never let my schooling interfere with my educationMark Twain


Created 1 October 2008; updated 8 October 2011

Visitors since 7 August 2010