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Life Evolving: My intellectual testament


An admiration for excellence
Christian de Duve Scientist
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Well, I don't want to end on... on such a pessimistic note, and so since I was given the opportunity, which I'm not sure whether it's really a... something that I should appreciate, but, anyway, since I've been given this opportunity to talk about myself and to go over what has been a fairly long life... I would say that when I look back... in terms of chance and necessity, which has become, as I said, my main interest... scientific interest – chance and necessity as far as life is concerned – and scientifically my conclusion has been more necessity, less chance than Jacques Monod, Weinberg and others maintain. As it... in terms of my own life, I would say more chance than necessity. Many, many, many of the turning points in this rather circuitous and indirect pathway that I have followed; many of those turning points have been due to chance events – chance events that I had no responsibility for and certainly can claim no credit for. And so I'm... I've been fortunate. Chance has helped me. If there has been necessity, as I look back, I think I can say, yes, there's been one sort of dominating feeling in my own mind and it's the kind of desire or need, ambition for... to excel. Now that's a very nasty thing, but that happens to be... I've always wanted to be first, and I... I have to acknowledge that. But not... not to become famous, not to become powerful, not to... to become wealthy. I've not become anything to those sorts of things. I think because I had this instinctive admiration for excellence, for doing the best possible thing whenever you were asked to do something, and in my little scientific life, that is essentially what I have tried to do – to cultivate excellence – and I think that probably has been the straight line throughout all these detours that chance has created on the pathway.

Belgian biochemist Christian de Duve (1917-2013) was best known for his work on understanding and categorising subcellular organelles. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1974 for his joint discovery of lysosomes, the subcellular organelles that digest macromolecules and deal with ingested bacteria.

Listeners: Peter Newmark

Peter Newmark has recently retired as Editorial Director of BioMed Central Ltd, the Open Access journal publisher. He obtained a D. Phil. from Oxford University and was originally a research biochemist at St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical School in London, but left research to become Biology Editor and then Deputy Editor of the journal Nature. He then became Managing Director of Current Biology Ltd, where he started a series of Current Opinion journals, and was founding Editor of the journal Current Biology. Subsequently he was Editorial Director for Elsevier Science London, before joining BioMed Central Ltd.

Tags: Jacques Monod, Robert Weinberg

Duration: 3 minutes, 38 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008