Margaret J. "Margie" Profet (born August 7, 1958) is an American evolutionary biologist with no formal biology training who created a decade-long controversy when she published her findings on the role of Darwinian evolution in menstruation, allergies and morning sickness. She argued that these three processes had evolved to eliminate pathogens, carcinogens and other toxins from the body.
Detractors argued that little to no experimental evidence supported Profet's reasoning. But supporters—including U.C. Santa Barbara anthropologist Donald Symons and U.C. Berkeley toxicologist Bruce Ames—considered her work a pioneering analysis of evolutionary theory in a never-before-studied, everyday context.
When Profet won a MacArthur Fellowship in 1993, international media took notice. New York Times reporter Natalie Angier called Profet's theory that menstruation protected the female mammal's reproductive canals a "radical new view". Scientific American, Time, Omni, and even People Magazine all followed with in-depth profiles of the 35-year-old "maverick" scientific prodigy.
Profet went on to publish two equally controversial bestselling books, 1995's Protecting Your Baby-To-Be: Preventing Birth Defects in the First Trimester and a 1997 follow up, Pregnancy Sickness: Using Your Body's Natural Defenses to Protect Your Baby-To-Be.
A graduate of Harvard University, where Profet received a political philosophy degree in 1980; and University of California, Berkeley, where in 1985 she received a bachelor's degree in physics, Profet returned to school in 1994, studying mathematics at the University of Washington in Seattle, where she was awarded a "visiting scholar" position in the astronomy department, an allied discipline. Several years later, she returned to Harvard, once again to study math.
In 2008, Cornell University researchers Paul and Janet Shellman-Sherman found Profet's theory that allergies are evolved ways to expel toxins and carcinogens—the so-called "toxin" or "prophylaxis hypothesis"—may explain a mysterious observation dating back to 1953 and replicated many times since: People with allergies are at much lower risk for some types of cancers, most notably the brain tumor glioma.
While research has for decades supported Profet's prophylaxis hypothesis applied to carcinogens, Stanford University Medical School and Yale University Medical School researchers in 2013 reported similar experimental support applying it to toxins, specifically bee venom. Bee venom induces allergic reactions in some people than can include anaphylactic shock and death. Both studies were published in the journal Immunology.
Yale immunology researchers Noah W. Palm, Ruslan Medzhitov, et. al. reported that Phospholipase A2 -- the major allergen in bee venom -- "is sensed by the innate immune system" and induces an immune response in mice that can protect against potentially fatal venom doses. .
Likewise, injecting mice with a small dose of bee venom conferred immunity to a much larger, fatal dose, Stanford researchers Stephen Galli, Thomas Marichal, and Philipp Starkl found. "Our findings support the hypothesis that this kind of venom-specific, IgE-associated, adaptive immune response developed, at least in evolutionary terms, to protect the host against potentially toxic amounts of venom, such as would happen if the animal encountered a whole nest of bees, or in the event of a snakebite," Galli explained.
Disappearance and discovery
Profet vanished from Cambridge, Massachusetts; according to friends and colleagues, in 2005; according to family members, before that. Her whereabouts were unknown for over seven years until she was found in Boston, Massachusetts, after a long ordeal with poverty and illness. She was reunited with her family in Southern California on May 16, 2012 as a result of nationwide attention from a May 2012 Psychology Today article.
- Profet, Margie (September 1993), "Menstruation as a Defense Against Pathogens Transported by Sperm", The Quarterly Review of Biology (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press) 68 (3): 335–386, doi:10.1086/418170, ISSN 0033-5770, JSTOR 2831191, PMID 8210311
- Profet, Margie (March 1991), "The Function of Allergy: Immunological Defense Against Toxins", The Quarterly Review of Biology (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press) 66 (1): 23–62, ISSN 0033-5770, JSTOR 2830331, PMID 2052671
- Profet, Margie (1988), "The Evolution of Pregnancy Sickness as Protection to the Embryo Against Pleistocene Teratogens", Evolutionary Theory 8: 177–190
- Profet, Margie (1992). "Chapter 8: Pregnancy Sickness as Adaptation: A Deterrent to Maternal Ingestion of Teratogens". In Barkow, Jerome H.; Cosmides, Leda; Tooby, John. The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture. Oxford University Press. pp. 327–366. ISBN 0-19-506023-7.
- Profet, profits, and proof: Do nausea and vomiting of early pregnancy protect women from "harmful" vegetables? American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology 176(1):179-181, January 1997.
- "Fellows List – P". MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved 2 April 2011.
- Radical New View of Role of Menstruation, New York Times, September 21, 1993
- Margie Profet: Evolutionary Theories for Everyday Life, Scientific American, April 1996
- "School Isn't My Kind of Thing" Time, Sept. 4, 1993
- A Curse No More People Magazine
- Margie Profet: Co-Evolution Omni, May 1994
- Darwinian Medicine – It's A War Out There And Margie Profet, A Leading Theorist In A New Science, Thinks The Human Body Does Some Pretty Weird Things To Survive Seattle Times, July 31, 1994
- Allergies: Their Role in Cancer Prevention Quarterly Review of Biology, December, 2008
- Research Reinforces Potential Allergies-Glioma Connection Journal of the National Cancer Institute, February 20, 2012
- Bee Venom Phospholipase A2 Induces a Primary Type 2 Response that Is Dependent on the Receptor ST2 and Confers Protective Immunity Immunology, Volume 39, Issue 5, 14 November 2013
- A Beneficial Role for Immunoglobulin E in Host Defense against Honeybee Venom Immunology, Volume 39, Issue 5, 14 November 2013
- Bee sting allergy could be a defense response gone haywire, scientists say Stanford Medicine News, October 2013
- Severe Allergies to Bee Stings may be Malfunctioning Evolutionary Response Nature World News, October 2013
- Mike Martin, "The Mysterious Case of the Vanishing Genius: Margie Profet generated solutions to seemingly intractable puzzles of biology. Then she disappeared", Psychology Today, May 1, 2012, updated June 8, 2012; alternative link
- Margie Profet's Unfinished Symphony Weekly Scientist May 11, 2009 and May 29, 2012
- Missing biologist surfaces, reunites with family Nature News