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Isolating the repressor

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Gunther Stent and working in pairs
François Jacob Scientist
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Gunther Stent was one of Delbrück's students, like most of those guys. And Elie Wollman had gone to the United States for two years at Delbrück's lab. And Elie and Gunther Stent became very good friends, they worked together on something completely uninteresting, which was the role of tryptophan in the absorption of T4 phage. Apparently, T4 phage doesn't get absorbed if there isn't any tryptophan. So they worked on that for two years. It didn't make much of an impact- and so Elie and Gunther were very good friends and Gunther often came over. And in fact, Gunther invited Elie to Berkeley for a year. And it's during the year that Elie spent in Berkeley that we really did things with Monod. And so when he came back, we told him- come work with us. And he said no. Things were already on their way. It wasn't worthy of him. And afterwards, Gunther Stent is sort of going to be opposed to the Operon? Yes, he did the Operon, but he didn't do it at the DNA level, but at the level of- but he was always against it. We can almost say that he was regularly opposed to every theory that came out and we can say that we could pretty much bet that the truth was more or less the opposite of what he was saying. Almost every time. So it was reassuring when he was opposed to- It wasn't 'that reliable' but almost. And in fact afterwards, in the years that follow, I know that in development biology, he's also going to be opposed to gene development. Yes, he always ventured off the beaten tracks. But he was very very nice. He talked quite a lot. He's a philosopher now, it suits him well, he had a philosophical mind. He's a philosophy lecturer. He gives philosophy lectures at Berkeley. And when you speak of that time, you often insisted on the pairs of scientists. It was a time, when people often worked in pairs. Yes, I think that until the war, they worked alone. Now you need 20 or 25 people to work on the genome. But at that time, at the birth of molecular biology, there were couples, there were pairs. There was Watson and Crick, there was Luria-Delbrück, there was Jacob-Monod, etc. There was Meselson and Stahl, exactly. It's funny, but that's how it was, there were pairs. But I believe that working alone is boring, it's much more fun to work with someone, it's more cheerful, it goes much quicker.
Gunther Stent était un élève de Delbrück, comme la plupart de ces types là. Et Elie Wollman était parti aux Etats-Unis pendant deux ans chez Delbrück. Et Elie et Gunther Stent sont devenus très copains, ils ont travaillé ensemble sur un truc qui était parfaitement inintéressant, qui était le rôle du tryptophane pour l'absorption du phage T4. Apparemment, le phage T4 ne s'absorbe pas s'il n'y a pas de tryptophane. Alors ils ont travaillé là-dessus pendant deux ans. Ça n'a pas fait les éclats- Et alors donc Elie était très copain de Gunther et Gunther venait souvent ici. Et en fait, Gunther a invité Elie à passer un an à Berkeley. Et c'est l'année où Elie était à Berkeley que nous avons vraiment fait les trucs avec Monod. Et alors quand il est revenu, on lui a dit- Viens jouer avec nous. Et il a dit non. Le jeu était déjà lancé. Ce n'était pas digne de lui. Et Gunther Stent après il va aussi un peu s'opposer à l'Opéron après ? Oui, Il a fait l'opéron, lui, qui n'était pas au niveau du DNA, mais au niveau du- Mais lui s'est toujours opposé. On peut presque dire qu'il s'est presque régulièrement opposé à toutes les théories qu'on sortait et on peut dire qu'on pouvait à peu près parier que la vérité était le contraire de ce qu'il disait. Presque à chaque coup. Donc c'était rassurant quand il s'opposait- Ce n'est pas- that reliable mais presque. Et d'ailleurs après, je sais qu'il va aussi s'opposer, en biologie du développement, il va s'opposer aux gènes du développement dans les années qui suivent. Oui, lui, il a toujours été hors des sentiers battus. Mais très très sympathique. Il discutait à perte de vue. Il est devenu philosophe maintenant, ça lui va très bien, il a un esprit philosophique. Il est prof de philo. Il fait des cours de philo à Berkeley. Et quand vous avez parlé de toute cette époque, vous avez insisté beaucoup sur les paires de scientifiques. C'est une époque où souvent, les gens travaillaient par deux. Oui, je pense que jusqu'à la guerre, ils travaillaient un par un. Maintenant, il en faut 20 ou 25 pour faire le génome. Mais à cette époque-là, au moment de la naissance de la biologie moléculaire, c'étaient des couples, c'étaient des paires. Il y avait Watson et Crick, il y avait Luria-Delbrück, il y avait Jacob-Monod, etc. Il y avait Meselson et Stahl, exactement. C'est drôle, mais c'est comme ça, c'étaient des paires. Moi je crois que c'est ennuyeux de travailler seul, c'est beaucoup plus amusant de travailler à deux, c'est beaucoup plus gai, ça va plus vite.

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, 8 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008