The Omnibus Autism hearing: Dr. Deth and the duck brain mystery

11 Jun

In my blog entry about Dr. Johnson’s testimony in the Omnibus Autism hearing I mused that:

I may have to devote a separate post to the issue of Deth taking data from (but not citing) a 1958 paper (pdf) that reported the level of cystathionine in duck brains (besides duck, also, human, cat, rat, guinea pig, horseshoe crab, chicken, cow and monkey).


I thought it might be worth blogging the issue of this irregularity in Dr. Deth’s expert testimony. I found where Dr. Deth’s powerpoint slides were made available on a website favorable to his hypothesis. It was very kind of them to do that. Here is that slide of Dr. Deth’s that Dr. Johnson had commented on. It gives comparative levels of cystathionine as found in various animal brains and human brain.

The above lovely graph was apparently created by Dr. Deth for the expert report to the Special Masters of the vaccine court. Dr. Johnson noted that there is no reference on the slide indicating which paper it came from. One would expect to see a citation like, “Stott, 2001,” or “Wakers et al., 1999,” the absence of which made Dr. Johnson wonder if the graph represented some research done by Deth himself. But Dr. Johnson was surprised by the seemingly odd “duck” in the list of animals. So after Deth had given his testimony, Dr. Johnson did a Google search for the words “duck” and “cystathionine” and in no time he had downloaded a pdf of the very paper the duck data had come from. I did the same Google search and likewise in no time had downloaded the same paper. If you click here you can (automatically) download that very paper for free. The title is L-CYSTATHIONINE IN HUMAN BRAIN. The authors are Harris H. Tallan, Stanford Moore and, William H. Stein. It was published in 1958.
And if you do access that paper and read it you will find the following table on page 7 of the pdf.

It looks as if Deth warmed-over this half-a-century-old data and averaged the amount of cystathionine in the 5 human-brain samples and came up with about 45 mg/per 100 g wet weight for his graph and it looks like he decided not to include the data from horseshoe crab brains. The original table reports the cystathionine in “mg. per cent”. Deth faithfully included the cat, cow, rat, guinea pig, chicken, monkey and duck levels, as well as the human liver, kidney and muscle levels.

As I remember, Dr. Johnson pointed out that that data on cystathionine in brain tissue of humans and rats, cats, cows and ducks didn’t make the point that Dr. Deth want to make with it anyway, but one has to wonder why he took the data that was in a 50 year old paper in table form and turned it into a histogram looking all modern and freshly churned-out by Excel and all. And if Deth thought it was necessary to make the point he needed to make, shouldn’t he at least have cited the paper properly?

When I was writing science papers for assignments at the college level a couple of years ago, it was drummed into all the students in strong terms that we should not ever plagiarize anything, or even to take the chance that something might look plagiarized. Professors warned their classes that the Internet was a powerful tool for digging up the true sources of plagiarized quotes (or entire plagiarized papers) and for finding the proper attributions for un-attributed graphics or statements, or creations of any kind. Plagiarism was, and still is, grounds for being tossed out of most colleges and universities, as I understand it, and students don’t get to claim that they didn’t know any better. One would think that professors would be held to an even higher standard.

white duck head photo by law_kevin on

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5 Responses to “The Omnibus Autism hearing: Dr. Deth and the duck brain mystery”

  1. María Luján June 11, 2008 at 11:45 #

    Dr Deth explained the point in his rebuttal.

    Q: Dr. Johnson was also very critical of you having a graph on slide 17 and not giving a citation for that paper; this is duck brain data, correct?
    A: This data was from the literature; this is not my data. This data was presented in a table in a study conducted in 1958. In my original slide, I had the citation clearly indicated. I think it’s a very critical finding – it illustrates that the human brain status is very noticeably different from all other species but also from all the other tissues in the human body in terms of sulfur metabolism. The citation was omitted after I submitted it


    Even more there are some recent manuscripts considering the topic of cystathionine
    Neurochem Int. 2007 Jan;50(2):418-26. Epub 2006 Nov 13.
    Inhibition of cystathionine-gamma-lyase leads to loss of glutathione and aggravation of mitochondrial dysfunction mediated by excitatory amino acid in the CNS.Diwakar L, Ravindranath V.
    Oxidative stress has been implicated in the pathogenesis and progression of neurodegenerative disorders and antioxidants potentially have a major role in neuroprotection. Optimum levels of glutathione (gamma-glutamylcysteinyl glycine), an endogenous thiol antioxidant are required for the maintenance of the redox status of cells. Cystathionine gamma-lyase is the rate-limiting enzyme for the synthesis of cysteine from methionine and availability of cysteine is a critical factor in glutathione synthesis. In the present study, we have examined the role of cystathionine gamma-lyase in maintaining the redox homeostasis in brain, particularly with reference to mitochondrial function since the complex I of the electron transport chain is sensitive to redox perturbation. Inhibition of cystathionine gamma-lyase by l-propargylglycine caused loss of glutathione and decrease in complex I activity in the brain although the enzyme activity in mouse brain was 1% of the corresponding hepatic activity. We then examined the effect of this inhibition on the neurotoxicity mediated by the excitatory amino acid, l-beta-oxalyl amino-l-alanine, which is the causative factor of a type of motor neuron disease, neurolathyrism. l-beta-Oxalyl amino-l-alanine toxicity was exacerbated by l-propargylglycine measured as loss of complex I activity indicating the importance of cystathionine gamma-lyase in maintaining glutathione levels and in turn the mitochondrial function during excitotoxicity. Oxidative stress generated by l-beta-oxalyl amino-l-alanine itself inhibited cystathionine gamma-lyase, which could be prevented by prior treatment with thiol antioxidant. Thus, cystathionine gamma-lyase itself is susceptible to inactivation by oxidative stress and this can potentially exacerbate oxidant-induced damage. Cystathionine gamma-lyase is present in neuronal cells in human brain and its activity is several-fold higher compared to mouse brain. It could potentially play an important role in maintaining glutathione and protein thiol homeostasis in brain and hence afford neuroprotection.
    Inhibition of cystathionine-gamma-lyase leads to loss of glutathione and aggravation of mitochondrial dysfunction mediated by excitatory amino acid in the CNS.
    A functional transsulfuration pathway in the brain links to glutathione homeostasis.
    From the last manuscript

    In fact, cystathionine concentrations are higher in the brain than in other organs (44), and significant regional differences are observed within this organ (43, 45, 46). Primate brains have 10-fold higher cystathionine than rodent brains (40, 46), and the concentration is 2-fold higher in human versus monkey brain (44). Higher cystathionine concentration has been measured in white versus gray matter in human brain (47). These observations suggest that regulation of flux through the transsulfuration pathway is different in the brain versus other tissues, which allows accumulation of the intermediate, cystathionine. The significance of high cystathionine concentrations in brain is not known, and pharmacological studies have suggested a potential role for this amino acid as a neuromodulator (48, 49). Interestingly, cystathionine is virtually absent in homocystinuric patients deficient in cystathionine -synthase who exhibit disorders of the central nervous system, including seizures (50).

    Could you please clarify me why Dr Johnson told that

    data on cystathionine in brain tissue of humans and rats, cats, cows and ducks didn’t make the point that Dr. Deth want to make with it anyway

  2. Ms. Clark June 11, 2008 at 21:41 #

    Maria, Thanks, I missed the defense that Deth gave for the missing citation. I don’t believe him.

    It will take me a while to find the place in the audio transcript where doctor Johnson dismisses Deth’s claims about the importance of the data in the half-century old paper. The written transcripts should be up in a week and it might be easier to find it then than for me to listen to audio and then spend an hour trying to transcribe the audio just right (I’m a pretty poor typist). But if I can find the time, I will do that.

    I’m assuming that you can’t download Dr. Johnson’s testimony and listen to it yourself?

    The point is, though, that the mercury parents and their lawyers have shot themselves in the foot over and over again. It really doesn’t help them or you, in the least to know how much cystathionine is in the human brain because the proximate cause of ANY neuronal affect by mercury in the brain is inorganic mercury. There is a far higher daily and lifetime exposure of any human to methyl mercury than to vaccine mercury. So no matter how you look at it, every baby is born with inorganic mercury in it’s brain and body. Every human on the planet has a bunch of inorganic mercury in their brain from a bunch of different sources. Every autistic child then has inorganic mercury in his or her brain, even the ones who never have been vaccinated!

    And so if it’s inorganic mercury that causes whatever far-out, unsupported hypothetical effect proposed by any quack then TCVs are totally off the hook for being responsible for anything. It would be like if you fed your kid gallons of ice cream and entire chocolate layer-cakes every day and then the school gave him a cookie once a month and you wanted to sue the school for causing him to be overweight.

    And so there’s absolutely no way to indict thimerosal as being a significant cause of whatever the supposed damage is. The amount of inorganic mercury in the brain of any child getting TCVs is a minor part of the total the child was injected with (it’s not like it all goes to the brain and stays there, most of it is eliminated). See how that works?

    The thimerosal causation hypothesis has been dead for years now.

    This is why around the world, intelligent people are still injecting babies with thimerosal containing vaccines and why intelligent people aren’t panicking or threatening to sue anyone and are happy with the outcome of their babies getting mercury containing vaccines. They haven’t been brainwashed to believe that the amount of mercury in vaccines is dangerous. Isn’t that a good thing? I think so. There never was a reason, any reason, to fear the amount of mercury in vaccines. To me, only a fool would conclude that there was.

  3. Ms. Clark June 11, 2008 at 23:03 #

    Here’s a very sloppy transcription of what Johnson said about the duck brain graph. It’s around 23 1/2 minutes into the May 20, 0718AM mp3 file.

    “DoJ lawyer: Now were you present during the testimony, you’ve had an opportunity to review…
    I know you wanted to comment on slide 17
    why did Dr. Deth discuss this slide?

    Dr. Johnson: I think what Dr. Deth was trying to say here was that the levels of cystathionine were markedly higher in the human cortex than in other species…
    so what he used this data to do was to justify this statement here …
    that the conversion of cystathionine to cysteine is compromised in “neuronal cells” and that’s not true this SHSy5y cells, and basically that’s impossible to conclude because there’s no measurement of cysteine or there’s no measurement of glutathione… without knowing that you can’t make any conclusion that there’s a partial dysfunction in that pathway… the glutathione levels in the brains of these animals are not different… or they range but they are in a very close window of concentration.

    Was there a citation to the source of this data?

    No there was no citation, and when I walked a way from this thing…
    The duck kept bothering me, so what I did, what we do in this day and age is we google … the top hit was a paper published in 1958 by Harris et al
    The data that Dr Deth presented was the same data… I have a major problem with this. As scientists … we reference it. … This brings into question the scientific integrity of someone who is going to be taking someone else’s data … and not referencing where they got it from.”

    It’s hard to tell if he was saying “cysteine” or “cystine”. I think he was referring to “cysteine.” For those who haven’t been following all of this, those are two distinct amino acids.

    This is weird… I just found it on wikipedia… “At the present time, the cheapest source of material from which food-grade L-cysteine may be purified in high yield is by hydrolysis of human hair. Other sources include feathers and pig bristles.[citations needed] The companies producing cysteine by hydrolysis are located mainly in China. There is some debate as to whether or not consuming L-cysteine derived from human hair constitutes cannibalism. Although many other amino acids were accessible via fermentation for some years, L-cysteine was unavailable until 2001 when German company Wacker Chemie introduced a production route via fermentation (non-human, non-animal origin).”

    I wonder how much mercury there is in L-cysteine made from presumably Chinese people’s hair, in China Shocking to think about. Shocking. I’m just breathless, I’m so shocked. I wonder if DAN! dox prescribe this to their patients?

  4. María Luján June 11, 2008 at 23:27 #

    Mrs Clark
    Honestly, I may write enough well to be understood (I hope) english and I understand spoken english by native speakers very well , but in person- and mainly British. American english is for me more difficult to understand properly- my fault. By phone or looking at videos, well, I recognize it is very difficult for me to understand what is being said. I do not practice spoken english every day and many phonetic aspects are difficult for me- even when I read continuously english. Therefore with these topics I trust English native speakers.

    Thank you for the transcription.

  5. Ms. Clark June 12, 2008 at 01:51 #

    No problem. It didn’t take as much time as I thought it would to transcribe it because I didn’t work as hard to get every single word in the exactly right spot and I was able to find the spot in his testimony without having to listen to all of it.

    I’d be almost clueless about the same dialogue if it spoken in Spanish, though I might have a tiny clue if it was in Mandarin… like I might know they were talking about ducks and humans.

    I’m not sure if I would recognize cystahionine in Mandarin, but I might, sometimes they transliterate foreign words into something vaguely recognizable.

    You do very well in writing English, Maria, considering that you aren’t exposed to it every day the way we are (and my written English needs some serious help at times).

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