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André Lwoff

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Starting at Lwoff's laboratory
François Jacob Scientist
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So there were two laboratories in Paris where one could hope to do that sort of thing. So there was Boris Ephrussi- And Boris Ephrussi was a rather difficult guy. For example, there was a guy that I knew, that I knew pretty well, who was very nice. And one day, he was doing an experiment, on a Saturday afternoon. Boris Ephrussi gets there and asks him- What are you doing?- I'm doing an experiment. And Ephrussi says- But you didn't tell me about this experiment?- No Sir, but I thought it would be interesting to- He takes the test tubes and empties them in the sink. So it wasn't very encouraging! On the other hand, everything that I was hearing from the Lwoff-Monod group was very tempting. And that's when I ended up at Lwoff's laboratory and looking all innocent, I told him- I'm not good, I haven't done anything, but I would really like to work for you. He told me- You seem very nice, I really like you, but I don't have any openings. And during nine or 10 months, I came back every month to ask him, until May or June. And the last month he told me- You know, we've found the phages induction. So I put as much admiration as I could in my answer and said- no, really? I didn't know what it meant. I left and went in the first bookshop to try to find out in a dictionary what induction and phage meant. I'm guessing that there wasn't anything there? There were things on induction but not on phage. And so eventually, I started to understand what it was all about. And so on the 1st of September 1950 or 51 I joined Lwoff's team. And I was very lucky then. Because he was incredibly kind. He sort of treated me like a son. He didn't have a son. He was extremely kind to me. When you defended your thesis, he basically didn't even think that he needed to show that he was your supervisor. He wasn't there when you defended your science thesis. He was in America. He had gone for a year with his wife to learn the culture of cells with Dulbecco. He wasn't going to come back for that, and I wasn't going to wait for him to come back. So he wasn't there. Many supervisors would have wanted you to wait for their return. I mean- He wasn't like that, he really wasn't. He was amazingly generous. Because he always pushed me, and even when I started making progress and moving forward, he continued to push me without second thoughts. That's astonishing!

François Jacob (1920-2013) was a French biochemist whose work has led to advances in the understanding of the ways in which genes are controlled. In 1965 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, together with Jacque Monod and André Lwoff, for his contribution to the field of biochemistry. His later work included studies on gene control and on embryogenesis. Besides the Nobel Prize, he also received the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science for 1996 and was elected a member of the French Academy in 1996.

Listeners: Michel Morange

Michel Morange est généticien et professeur à L'Université Paris VI ainsi qu'à l'Ecole Normale Supérieure où il dirige le Centre Cavaillès d'Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences. Après l'obtention d'une license en Biochimie ainsi que de deux Doctorats, l'un en Biochimie, l'autre en Histoire et Philosophie des Sciences, il rejoint le laboratoire de Génétique Moléculaire dirigé par le Professeur François Jacob à l'Institut Pasteur. Ses principaux travaux de recherche se sont portés sur l'Histoire de la Biologie au XXème siècle, la naissance et le développement de la Biologie Moléculaire, ses transformations récentes et ses interactions avec les autres disciplines biologiques. Auteur de "La Part des Gènes" ainsi que de "Histoire de la Biologie Moléculaire", il est spécialiste de la structure, de la fonction et de l'ingénerie des protéines.

Michel Morange is a professor of Biology and Director of the Centre Cavaillès of History and Philosophy of Science at the Ecole Normale Supérieure. After having obtained a Bachelor in biochemistry and two PhDs, one in Biochemistry, the other in History and Philosophy of Science, he went on to join the research unit of Molecular Genetics headed by François Jacob, in the Department of Molecular Biology at the Pasteur Institute, Paris. Together with Olivier Bensaude, he discovered that Heat Shock Proteins are specifically expressed on the onset of the mouse zygotic genome activation. Since then he has been working on the properties of Heat Shock Proteins, their role in aggregation and on the regulation of expression of these proteins during mouse embryogenesis. He is the author of 'A History of Molecular Biology' and 'The Misunderstood Gene'.

Duration: 3 minutes, 4 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008