Rhesus Pieces

The Standard Freeholder ponders the meaning of pH and Rh … the latter is of interest to us:

The technical “Rh factor” refers to a protein characteristic of blood.

The blood of about 85 percent of the world’s population is Rh positive while that of the other approximately 15 percent is Rh negative (lacking the protein). The two blood properties are not compatible.

That insight came came in 1937 from the research in New York by Austrian-born biochemist Karl Landsteiner (1868-1943) and American forensic pathologist Dr. Alexander Wiener (1907-76). Together, they studied blood-based diseases and refined blood-typing techniques for transfusions. Landsteiner had received a 1930 Nobel Prize for his previous work on polio.

The Rh positive protein creates antibodies against Rh negative blood which negate the benefits of such transfusions.

In their experiments, the two blood experts were doing transfusions between rabbits and monkeys (of a type called Rhesus macaques) when they noted the particularity of that protein in the monkeys. Thus, they called their discovery the “Rhesus factor” -a tag later shortened to “Rh factor.”

“Rhesus” macaques were so named by French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Audebert (1759-1800) when he sketched them while also doing drawings of birds, the latter skill being what he had been hired for by French ornithologist Guillaume Antoine Olivier (1756-1814) on a research trip through Southern Asia (also those macaques’ habitat).

Some word analysts have attributed Audebert’s naming that type of macaque to his interest in the Trojan War of antiquity in which King Rhesus of Thrace had a small part.

Another likely possibility could be that, as customary for scholars of his time, Audebert had a knowledge of ancient Greek in which the word “rhesis” (related to “rhetoric”) means “talkative” -a descriptive readily applicable to the screechy gibbering abundantly done by those lively little simians.

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