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The General: my grandfather's influence

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Professor Hovelacque: an outstanding character
François Jacob Scientist
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And did you have specific teachers that stood out, science or literature or philosophy teachers, that struck you by their teachings, by their classes? Not Specifically. I had some very good teachers. Many were complete eccentrics. The majority were interesting. A few were very very boring. So there were the characters that you always find in cases like these: the guy who's deaf, who doesn't listen, who- but really nothing very specific. Whereas, in medicine, you talk about someone who I just discovered, Mr Hovelacque. You said that he was going to be the first scientist who- He wasn't really a scientist, he was an anatomist. He was an exceptional character. For a start he was physically extraordinary. He looked like an El Greco. He was very tall, very thin, with a beard. He absolutely looked like an El Greco cardinal, without the hat. And so, he was absolutely astonishing. He was a remarkable teacher. Anatomy, it isn't exactly fun, but he had a way- He was able to draw anything with his two hands on the board, any bone of the skeleton. One day, he said to me: Jacob, don't ever get married, no wife or you are done for! But it was a form of science, a slightly traditional science. It was a form of science, but I mean yes if you will, but it was a completely descriptive science. He would take a bone, throw it in the air- a bone, the little wrist bones, he would say: right or left?, during the anatomy exam, which was nonetheless quite delicate. And he is the one that stood out the most during the course of your medicine studies? Among the other teachers that you had during those two years, none of them really struck you? He was the most outstanding individual, he was the most extravagant if you will, and the purest. He was- during the war- He'd been a Zouave captain during the war, during the first war as a Zouave captain. After four years he came back, he hadn't had any leaves. He came back, but before going to see Mrs Hovelacque, he went to the laboratory. Which is quite an astonishing achievement.
Et est-ce que vous avez eu certains enseignants qui vous aient marqué, des enseignants de science ou de littérature, ou de philosophie, qui vous aient marqué par leur enseignement, par leurs cours ? Pas spécifiquement. J'ai eu de très bons professeurs. Beaucoup étaient complètement farfelus. La plupart étaient intéressants. Quelques-uns étaient très très ennuyeux. Alors il y avait les personnages que l'on retrouve dans tous les cas de ce genre. Le type qui est sourd qui n'écoute pas qui- Mais enfin rien de très particulier. Alors que par contre, en médecine, vous parlez d'une personne que j'ai découverte, Monsieur Hovelacque. Vous dites que ça va être votre premier scientifique- Ce n'était pas vraiment un scientifique. Il était anatomiste. Mais c'était un personnage extraordinaire. D'abord il était physiquement extraordinaire. Il ressemblait à un Greco. Il était tout en longueur, très maigre, une barbe. Il ressemblait absolument aux cardinaux du Greco, sans le chapeau. Et Alors, il était absolument étonnant. C'était un remarquable professeur. L'anatomie, ce n'est pas tellement marrant, mais il avait le sens- Il était capable de dessiner n'importe quoi avec les deux mains au tableau, n'importe quel os du squelette. Un jour, il m'a dit- Jacob, ne vous mariez pas, pas de régulière ou vous êtes foutu ! Mais c'était une forme de science, une science un peu traditionnelle. C'était une forme de science, mais enfin oui si vous voulez, mais c'était une science complètement descriptive. Il prenait un os, il le jetait en l'air- Un os, un des petits os du poignet là vous savez. Il disait- Droite ou gauche ?, à l'examen d'anatomie, ce qui était quand même un peu délicat. Et c'est celui qui vous a le plus marqué dans vos études de médecine ? Parmi les autres enseignants que vous avez eus pendant ces deux années, aucun ne vous avait fortement marqué ? C'était le personnage le plus marquant, c'était le plus extravagant si vous voulez, et le plus pur. Il était- Pendant la guerre- Il a fait la guerre comme capitaine de zouave, la première guerre comme capitaine de zouave. Au bout de quatre ans, il est rentré, il n'avait pas eu de permission. Il est rentré, mais avant d'aller dire bonjour à Madame Hovelacque, il est allé au laboratoire. Ce qui est quand même une performance assez étonnante.

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: 2 minutes, 47 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008