Paul M. Bingham

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Paul Montgomery Bingham (born February 25, 1951) is an American molecular biologist and evolutionary biologist, Associate Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Stony Brook University. He is known for his work in molecular biology, and has also published recent articles and a book on human evolution.


Bingham received his undergraduate degree at Blackburn College in Carlinville Illinois, and then completed his PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1980 (thesis advisor, Matthew Meselson) after completing an MS in Microbiology at the University of Illinois (with John W. Drake). He spent two years at the NIEHS before joining the faculty of the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology and the School of Medicine at Stony Brook University in 1982.

Molecular biology[edit]

He was part of a collaborative team that discovered of the parasitic DNA sequence element, the P element transposon This enabled a widely used strategy still used today for retrieving genes from animals. It also shed fundamental new light on how evolution shapes the (self-interested) individual genes that collaborate to build organisms.

With his wife, Zuzana Zachar. he demonstrated that transposon insertion mutations were responsible for most of the alleles used in the development of classical genetics. (Zachar and Bingham, 1982). He also collaborated with Carl Wu and Sarah Elgin (then at Harvard) on fundamental properties of metazoan chromatin structure (Wu, et al., 1979). In collaboration with Margaret Kidwell, then at Brown University, and Gerry Rubin, then at the Carnegie Institution), he carried out the molecular cloning of the P element transposon in Drosophila (Bingham, et al., 1982). This work revolutionized the retrieval of genes in Drosophila and subsequently contributed to progress in metazoan molecular and developmental genetics. He and his collaborators were the first to propose the use of P element transposon tagging to clone the first metazoan RNA polymerase subunit (Searles et al., 1982). This work demonstrated that the P element is a recently invading parasite of the Drosophila genome and gene pool. Thus, P became the first clearly defined metazoan example of this long-suspected phenomenon.

His research group also worked on the nature of metazoan gene regulation (Zachar and Bingham, 1985) and the elucidation of the first case of autoregulation of gene expression at the level of pre-mRNA splicing (Chou, et al., 1987; Zachar, et al., 1987; Bingham, et al., 1988; Spikes et al., 1994) and of critical features of the nuclear organization of pre-mRNA processing and transport (Li and Bingham, 1991; Zachar, et al., 1994). This latter work first clearly established the now-widely accepted model of channeled diffusion for the movement of most pre-mRNAs through the nuclear compartment (reviewed in Kramer, et al., 1994).

Human evolutionary biology[edit]

In the mid-1990s, he developed a theory of human uniqueness that proposes a novel explanation of why humans have evolved to be ecologically dominant. The theory has been published in three peer-reviewed journals: The Quarterly Review of Biology, Evolutionary Anthropology and the Journal of Theoretical Biology. (Bingham, 1999 and 2000; Okada and Bingham, 2008).

He and co-author Joanne Souza have developed the theory further in a self-published book, Death from a Distance and the Birth of a Humane Universe (BookSurge, 2009). This work builds on W.D. Hamilton’s theory of kin selection (Benefit x Relatedness > Cost) and posits that the Homo genus evolved when an ancestral organism developed the ability to effectively manage non-kin conflicts of interests by lowering the cost of coercion between non-kin individuals (Benefit > Cost of Coercion + Cost of Cooperation).

The theory, using precedents established in biological theory, proposes to explain many aspects of human social and sexual behavior. It proposed to account for the evolution of the human species from the advent of its phylogenetic branching from other hominids through physiological and behavioral adaptations until our current civilization. This theory of human uniqueness claims to answer the fundamental scientific challenge posted by Charles Darwin, to explain the descent of man: how did the 'incremental' process of evolution by natural selection suddenly produce an utterly unprecedented kind of animal, humans? It suggests an explanation of human origins, and also of human properties (from speech to political/economic/religious behavior).

According to his theory, the cost of coercing a cheating individual in a cooperative effort, otherwise known as the free-rider problem, was lowered when a precursor species to modern humans developed a way to threaten adult con-specifics from a distance by evolving the ability to throw. This diffused the risk to the predator formulated by Lanchester's Square Law. It proposes that we evolved the ability to repel predators and scavenge their kills in the African savannah. This was later adapted as threat projection towards free-riding con-specifics in non kin cooperative groups.

The theory further generalizes to a theory of history, claiming to account for many salient events of the 2 million year course of the human lineage – from the evolution of the Homo genus to the inception of behavioral modernity to the neolithic revolution to the rise of the nation-state (Bingham, 1999 and 2000).

He has presented his theory at The Stony Brook Human Evolution Symposium and Workshop, convened by Richard Leakey [1]. Most recently, Bingham joined Noam Chomsky, Marc Hauser, Ray Jackendoff, Philip Lieberman, Ian Tattersall and others to debate the issues surrounding the evolution of human speech at the Morris Symposium on language evolution [2]. He and Souza presented their work on theories of human evolution, behavior and history at the 2009 meeting of the Cold Spring Harbor Symposium on Quantitative Biology.

Academic work[edit]

In collaboration with Joanne Souza, he has developed a course [3] on the logic and implications of this new theory [4].

Bingham serves as the Faculty Director of the Freshmen College of Human Development at Stony Brook [5].

Bingham also serves on the management team of Cornerstone Pharmaceuticals, a firm developing cancer therapies, as Vice President of Research. He and his collaborator Prof. Zuzana Zachar recently received the Maffetone Research Prize from the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund for their cancer work.


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