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Induction of the prophage

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Important scientific works
François Jacob Scientist
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If we could slightly get back to the works that could have influenced you, precisely before or just after you started at the Pasteur Institute. You mentioned Erwin Schrödinger, "What is life?". It was an important book. Yes. It was an important book because it was a completely different way of viewing the world than the one of the little medicine student that I was until then. It really was, he was a physicist and it was completely different. It was, for me, a completely different world from the one I imagined. So there was him, there was Brachet, because Brachet that was the nucleic acids. And the nucleic acids did start to play a particular part. And there was a third one, you say it was Huxley? On Darwinism, the theory of evolution. Yes. And among the influences that directed you towards biology, there was the Lysenko affair. Yes, because the Lysenko affair, that was incredible. It was utterly unbelievable. The guy- the guy that dismissed all of biology, on the plea of it being incompatible with Marxism-Leninism, it was quite astonishing. And so that, that annoyed me so much that I think it was one of the factors that lead me towards biology. And towards genetics in particular? Towards genetics in particular. Because for Lysenko, genetics didn't exist. That was extraordinary. And that really struck you. It really mattered at the time? Yes. It mattered quite a lot. There were fervent discussions in the papers. There were guys like Prenant. Prenant was a very good biologist. He was a lecturer at the Faculty of Science. But at the same time he was a member of the communist party. So he was torn. There was him and there was also a woman called- who was a pharmacology lecturer at the Medical Faculty, who was also a member of the communist party. And they were all bringing genetics down and Lysenko was all they talked about. And what about Aragon, with whom you are a little harsh? Well, Aragon was also exasperating. Aragon was a guy with incredible talent, but who also came up with unbelievable things. Unbelievable! He was a doctor, so he had a hazy idea of things.
Si on peut revenir un petit peu sur les ouvrages qui ont pu vous influencer justement avant ou juste après votre entrée à l'Institut Pasteur. Vous aviez cité Erwin Schrödinger, "Qu'est-ce que la vie ?". C'est un ouvrage qui a compté. Oui, c'est un ouvrage qui a compté parce que c'était une façon complètement différente de voir le monde vivant que celui du petit étudiant en médecine que j'étais jusque-là. C'était vraiment, c'était un physicien et c'était complètement différent. Pour moi, c'était un monde complètement différent de celui que j'imaginais. Alors il y a eu lui, il y a eu Brachet, parce que Brachet c'était les acides nucléiques. Et que les acides nucléiques ça a quand même commencé à jouer un certain rôle. Et puis il y a eu le troisième c'était Huxley vous dites ? Sur le darwinisme, la théorie de l'évolution. Oui. Et parmi les influences aussi qui vous ont poussé vers la biologie, il y a l'affaire Lyssenko. Oui, parce que ça c'était incroyable, l'affaire Lyssenko. C'était complètement incroyable- le type- le type qui évacuait toute la biologie, sous prétexte que ce n'était pas compatible avec le marxisme-léniniste, c'était quand même étonnant. Alors ça, ça m'a tellement agacé que je pense que ça a été un des facteurs qui m'ont poussé vers la biologie. Et vers la génétique en particulier ? Vers la génétique en particulier. Parce que pour lui, la génétique n'existait pas, pour Lyssenko. Ça c'était extraordinaire. Et ça vous a beaucoup marqué. Ça a compté à cette époque ? Oui. Ça a compté pas mal. Il y avait des discussions ardentes dans les journaux. Il y avait des types comme Prenant. Prenant était un très bon biologiste. Il était prof à la faculté des sciences. Mais en même temps, il était au Parti. Alors il était déchiré. Il y a eu lui et il y a eu une femme aussi qui s'appelait- Qui était professeur de pharmacologie à la faculté de médecine, qui était également au Parti. Et alors tout ça tirait à boulet rouge sur la génétique et ça ne parlait que de Lyssenko. Et Aragon, pour lequel vous êtes un peu dur ? Ah ben Aragon était exaspérant aussi. Aragon, c'est un type qui a un talent fou qui avait un talent fou, mais qui a sorti n'importe quoi aussi. N'importe quoi ! Il était médecin, alors il avait une vague idée des choses.

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'.

Tags: Erwin Schrödinger

Duration: 2 minutes, 41 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008