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Singularities: The accident of life


Life Evolving: My intellectual testament
Christian de Duve Scientist
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I wrote that book with considerable misgivings. I... I spent a lot of time writing and re-writing that last chapter. I didn't want to hurt feelings. I wanted... I didn't want to betray my own truth. And when the book came out, I... I was... I was terribly concerned. I was wondering what's going to happen. I mean, my friends are going to be very upset and many will be angry. Surprisingly, there has been mostly positive reaction... mostly positive reaction. The members of the Louvain University – they are intelligent people, they are honest people, and they recognise intelligence; they recognise honesty when they see it. And many of them probably have gone through more or less the same kind of mental evolution, and so many of them... some... well, some have said, 'You've said aloud, or you have written, what we have always thought.' And others have said, 'Well, I don't agree with you, but I respect your honesty.' And so, on the whole, it was probably a mistake on my part not to speak earlier. On the other hand, the University was much more dogmatic and authoritarian when I was a young professor than it is today. Today, it's a very liberal institution. So that... that went all right. But when I wrote Life Evolving because of this being really my... my testament... my... my intellectual testament, I thought, this is the last book I'm going to write. And then, as has happened before, I decided, no. I decided I made a mistake in writing this book at the same time for two separate readerships, for the scientists and for the general public at the same time, because the scientists would be sort of turned off by all the boring stuff that I am writing for the general public, and the general public will be turned off by the... the more scientific aspects. So I decided I'd have to split those two, and so I started by writing a new book addressed to the scientists. I decided, well, in all this thinking that I've made, some... modest, but some original theories or ideas have come up, and I would like to put those together in a way that my fellow scientists – not just biologists or biochemists, but also physicists and cosmologists, geologists... I mean, anybody who can understand the scientific language – can read, so that at least my contribution, if there is any contribution, to the topic of the origin of life, and of the evolution of life, could be made clear. Since I don't publish papers any more, the only way that I can... that I can publish those ideas is by way of my books.

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: Life Evolving, Louvain University

Duration: 3 minutes, 33 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008