A look back at the future

I am indebted to Dr R.A.C. for bringing to my attention a spoof exam paper drawn up by J.B.S. Haldane. Originally published in the journal Brighter Biochemistry (“the illustrated journal of the Biochemical Laboratory, Cambridge”), the paper was republished in Trends in Biochemical Sciences in 1981. I had not come across Brighter Biochemistry before but it sounds like it would have been an entertaining read.

For the 1931 issue J.B.S. Haldane, then a Reader in the department of Biochemistry at Cambridge, looked into his crystal ball and produced an examination paper for 1956. Some of it is a bit obscure (well, to me anyway), some of it sounds quite far-fetched, but I have a suspicion that some of it would be answerable – though probably not in 1956.

Here are some of the questions.

Write down the structural formula of human type C oxyhaemoglobin, and briefly summarise the evidence on which it is based.  (Structural formulae should be written stereoscopically. A stereoscope is provided.)

“Enzyme action is only intelligible in terms of wave mechanics.” (Meldrum). Discuss this statement.

“Taxonomy must in future be based on biochemistry.” (Haldane). How have the confers been reclassified on the basis of their terpenes?

Describe briefly the biochemical functions of each of the 17 genes concerned in chlorophyll production in Zea Mays.

Contrast the function of glutathione in (a) yeast, (b) cabbage leaf, (c) mammalian liver, (d) mammalian erythrocytes.

“The beginning of consciousness in the developing hen’s egg can be placed with certainty on the 19th day.” (Needham and Holmes). Describe the substances which determine the appearance of this function, and the analytical methods employed for their detection.

Contrast the immune bodies developed by man in response to (a) Taenia, (b) cobra venom, (c) Pneumocossus type III. What points regarding their composition are still doubtful?

Contrast the structure of the receptors for adrenaline and acetyl-choline in heart muscle.

How good were Haldane’s predictions of the state of biochemical knowledge in 1956?

About Frank Norman

I am a librarian in a biomedical research institute. I've been around a few years, long enough to know that exciting new things fall into the same familiar patterns. I'm interested in navigating a path for libraries as we move further from print to electronic resources to open research, and become more embedded in research workflows.
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3 Responses to A look back at the future

  1. This reminds me a bit of an exam paper produced some years ago by National Lampoon, which included questions like “If dogs ruled the universe, how much of it would have to be re-designed?”, and “The logic of waterfalls. Discuss.”

    Old J.B.S. was a bit more clever with his questions, but I’m not going to attempt to answer any of them.

  2. cromercrox says:

    And there I was thinking that an ecliptic is a person who suffers from eclipsy.

  3. Ed Rybicki says:

    Questions for 2056:
    “Given the annotated human genome, design a program to model interactions at the level of the metabolome for biotic stress due to Ebola virus infection”