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The mouse facilities of the Pasteur Institute


François Jacob Scientist
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What I mainly wanted was to change material. I wanted to have something instead of bacteria, I wanted an organism that had eyes, that looked at you and that had a soul. And bacteria don't really have souls. Hence... and then, there were a lot of discussions because the question was if we want to go on to superior organisms, which one? So two of my friends, Seymour Benzer and Sydney, had already taken the plunge. Seymour was working on Drosophila...

[Q] And its behaviour, in particular.

Yes, that's right. And Sydney had chosen a small worm. So I asked Sydney if I could borrow his small worm, which he did unwillingly. He lent it to me, but he wasn't very happy that I was working with it. But I didn't really enjoy working with this small worm. Which means that I didn't work with it for very long. And I thought Drosophila was the perfect system, a tremendous system because of genetics, because of the possibility of... but I thought that importing Drosophila to Pasteur with a big enough group to be able to do something, wasn't very reasonable. However, the mouse, which is an organism on which bacteria, viruses and everything is tested. It was perfectly reasonable to do a little mouse genetics and to do it with a mouse. Hence the mouse. Which, obviously, didn't allow me to do as much as with Drosophila. But nevertheless, I thought it was much more reasonable to work with mice at Pasteur than with Drosophila.

[Q] And for the eyes and the soul. The mouse is better! Yes, of course. It's even better than roundworms.

Roundworms have a soul like everybody else!

Je voulais changer de matériel surtout. Je voulais avoir quelque chose qui, avoir... Au lieu de bactéries, je voulais avoir un organisme qui ait des yeux, qui vous regarde et qui ait une âme. Et que les bactéries ça n'a pas tellement d'âme. D'où... Alors là il y a eu beaucoup de discussions. Parce que la question était... Si on veut passer à des organismes supérieurs, quoi? Alors il y avait deux de mes copains, qui étaient Seymour Benzer et Sydney, qui avaient déjà fait le saut. Seymour, lui, travaillait sur la drosophile...

[Q] Et le comportement en particulier. Oui c'est ça.

Et Sydney lui avait pris le petit ver. Alors, j'ai demandé à Sydney de me prêter son petit ver, ce qu'il a fait avec répugnance. Il me l'a prêté, mais il n'était pas tellement content que je travaille dessus. Mais le petit ver m'a pas amusé beaucoup. Ce qui fait que j'ai pas tellement travaillé longtemps sur le petit ver. Et je me suis dit que, 'Alors la drosophile, c'était le système idéal, c'était le système formidable, à cause de la génétique, à cause de la possibilité de, vraiment de...' Mais je me suis dit qu'importer à Pasteur la drosophile, avec un groupe de taille suffisante pour qu'on puisse faire quelque chose, c'était pas très raisonnable. Alors que la souris, qui est l'organisme sur lequel on teste les bactéries, les virus et tout, c'était parfaitement raisonnable de faire un peu de génétique de souris et de faire ça avec la souris. D'où la souris. Ce qui ne me permettait pas de faire autant de choses qu'avec la drosophile, évidemment. Mais enfin, je trouvais que c'était beaucoup plus raisonnable de faire de la souris à Pasteur que de la drosophile.

[Q] Et pour les yeux et l'âme, c'est mieux la souris! Oui, bien sûr. C'est même mieux que le nématode.

Le nématode a une âme comme tout le monde!

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: Sydney Brenner, Seymour Benzer

Duration: 1 minute, 49 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008