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Jean Louis Guénet and Oudin


The mouse facilities of the Pasteur Institute
François Jacob Scientist
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It seemed obvious to me, in the same way that we had been able to do things with bacteria, which was because we had brought together people from completely different horizons and education to work on one organism, which was Escherichia Coli K12 and its phage, that if we wanted to start working on superior organisms, the same thing needed to be done. So we could then start talking about which superior organism to pick, but eventually, for a variety of reasons, the mouse was the best one. Hence the idea of the mouse facilites at the Institute. People then thought I was crazy or- because why choose mice rather than drosophila, rather than man, rather than anything else. And they also thought- he wants to have an institute, which he would manage. If there was something in which I had no interest, it was to manage an institute. And eventually, it failed because of that. People didn't follow, which is silly because if we had done it, we would have been ten years ahead of everyone else.

[MM] Nevertheless, in the molecular biology department in which you have settled, the mouse had quite an important place.

Well yes, because eventually I bent the system. But then I had a long talk with Monod, because it wasn't easy at the start. And there was- especially- what was his name, Oudin who found it completely stupid, and who thought the only normal organism was the rabbit. Because serum is made from rabbits, and that having 5000 mice in a corner of the Pasteur Institute was completely unreasonable. So I had absolutely Homeric talks with him, especially in the large lecture theatre at Pasteur, where I tried to prove that we needed to do genetics, which he was- in his opinion it really wasn't obvious, and if we wanted to do genetics, it wasn't rabbit genetics but mouse genetics that needed to be done. And eventually, Monod agreed with me and Oudin wasn't very happy. Meaning that we transformed practically all of Pasteur's animal houses into mice houses.

Il me paraissait évident que, de la même façon que ce qu'on avait pu faire chez les bactéries, c'était parce qu'on avait concentré des gens d'horizons complètement différents et de formations complètement différentes sur un même organisme, qui était Escherichia Coli K12 et son phage, que si on voulait commencer à travailler sur des organismes supérieurs, il fallait en faire autant. Alors on pouvait discuter sur quel organisme supérieur, mais finalement, pour des raisons variées, la souris était le mieux. D'où l'idée d'institut de la souris. Là, les gens m'ont pris, ou pour un fou ou pour- parce que pourquoi la souris plutôt que la drosophile, plutôt que l'homme, plutôt que n'importe quoi. Et aussi ils se sont dit- Oui, il veut se faire faire un institut dont il sera directeur. S'il y a quelque chose qui ne m'intéressait pas, c'est d'être directeur d'un institut. Et finalement, ça a échoué à cause de ça. Les gens n'ont pas suivi, ce qui était stupide parce que si on avait fait ça, on aurait eu dix ans d'avance sur les autres. Le département de biologie moléculaire quand même dans lequel vous êtes installé, la souris occupait une place assez importante. Ah ben parce que finalement oui, j'ai fait pencher le système. Mais là j'ai eu une grande discussion avec Monod, parce que ce n'était pas évident au départ. Et surtout, il y avait, comment il s'appelait, Oudin qui trouvait ça absolument stupide, qui trouvait que le seul organisme normal, c'est le lapin. Parce que on fait les sérums avec des lapins et que avoir 5000 souris dans un coin de l'Institut Pasteur, c'était complètement déraisonnable. Alors j'ai eu des discussions avec lui absolument homériques, en particulier dans le grand amphi de Pasteur, où j'ai essayé de lui démontrer qu'il fallait faire de la génétique, ce qui lui était- Pour lui c'était pas évident du tout, et que si on voulait faire de la génétique, ce n'était pas la génétique du lapin, mais la génétique de la souris. Et finalement, Monod m'a suivi là et Oudin n'était pas très content. C'est-à-dire qu'on a transformé pratiquement toutes les animaleries Pasteur en animaleries de souris.

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: 1 minute, 58 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008