François Jacob Biography

François Jacob, a French biologist, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1965 for his groundbreaking discoveries in genetic control of enzymes and virus synthesis. Collaborating with renowned scientists Jacques Monod and Andre Lwoff at the Pasteur Institute, Jacob made significant contributions to the field of genetics. His most notable finding was the identification of regulator genes that control the activities of structural genes. He also developed the Jacob-Monod operon model, which explains how genes are regulated. Jacob’s research on messenger RNA and bacterial evolution further advanced our understanding of genetic processes. Recognized for his achievements, he received the Grand Prix Charles-Leopold Mayer in 1962 and was elected as a Foreign Member of the Royal Society in 1973.

Quick Facts

  • French Celebrities Born In June Died At Age: 92
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Geneviève Barrier, Lise Bloch
    • Father: Thérèse (Franck) Jacob
    • Mother: Simon
    • Children: Henri, Laurent, Odile, Pierre
  • Biologists
  • French Men
  • Died on: April 19, 2013
  • Place of death: Paris, France
  • City: Nancy, France
  • Awards:
    • Grand Prix Charles-Leopold Mayer (1962)
    • Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1965)
    • ForMemRS (1973)

Childhood & Early Life

Jacques Monod was born on June 17, 1920, in Nancy, France, to Thérèse (Franck) Jacob and Simon Jacob. He was their only child. His father was a conformist in religion, while his mother and other close family members were secular Jews. As a child, he admired his maternal grandfather, Albert Franck, who was a four-star general. Jacob became an atheist after his bar mitzvah. He attended the public secondary and higher education school, Lycée Carnot, in Paris from the age of seven and studied there for ten years.

Education and World War II

After completing his school education, Jacob enrolled at the Faculty of Paris with the goal of becoming a surgeon. However, his studies were interrupted when the German Army invaded France during the Second World War in 1940. In his second year of studies, he fled to England in a boat and joined the Free French Forces in London. He was then relocated to Africa, where he served as a medical officer and witnessed several actions in Libya, Tunisia, Tripolitania, and Fezzan. In 1944, while stationed with the French 2nd Armoured Division in Normandy, he was wounded in a German air attack and had to return to Paris. He remained hospitalized for seven months. Jacob received several French military honors for his bravery during the Liberation of France, including the French Order Cross of Liberation, the Legion of Honour, and the Croix de guerre.

Career in Science

After the war, Jacob continued his medical studies in Paris and began examining tyrothricin and studying bacteriology procedures. In 1947, he earned his M.D. after submitting his doctoral thesis on the effectiveness of antibiotics in combating local infections. However, due to his wartime injuries, he was unable to pursue a career as a surgeon.

In 1950, Jacob joined the renowned Pasteur Institute of France as a research assistant under French microbiologist Dr. André Lwoff. He received his science degree the following year. His work at the Pasteur Institute focused on the genetic mechanisms present in bacteriophages and bacteria, as well as the biochemical effects of mutations. He examined properties of lysogenic bacteria and showed their immunity.

In 1954, Jacob earned his Ph.D. in science from the University of Paris (Sorbonne) by submitting his thesis on “Lysogenic bacteria and the provirus concept.” That same year, he began collaborating with French microbial geneticist Elie Wollman and examined the relationship between the genetic substance of bacteria and prophage. Their work led to the discovery of new concepts, such as the procedure of genetic transfer from male to female and the episome concept. Jacob summarized this work in his book “Sexuality and the Genetics of Bacteria,” published in 1961.

Contributions to Genetics

In 1961, Jacob and Jacques Monod investigated the mechanics responsible for genetic data transfer and the controlling pathways present in bacterial cells that regulate the activities and synthesis of macromolecules. They suggested new concepts like allosteric proteins, regulator genes, and messenger RNA. Jacob and Monod became well-known for their work on the E.coli Lac operon, which encodes proteins required for the transfer and breakdown of sugar lactose. They proposed a model that showed how levels of certain cell proteins are regulated. Their findings demonstrated the importance of the balance between regulator genes and structural genes in a normal cell’s ability to adapt to varying conditions.

Later Career and Achievements

In 1964, Jacob was appointed as a Professor at the prestigious Collège de France, where a chair of Cell Genetics was created for him. He also became a foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences that year. In 1969, he became a foreign member of the American Philosophical Society and the National Academy of Sciences of the US.

From 1970 onwards, Jacob focused on investigating cultured cells of mammals and studying the genetic properties of cells. He published a book titled “La logique du vivant, une Histoire de l’Hérédité” (The Logic of Life: A History of Heredity) in 1970, which traced the study of living beings from the sixteenth century to the field of molecular biology.

Awards and Personal Life

In 1965, Jacob received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Jacques Monod and Andre Lwoff for their discoveries concerning genetic control of enzyme and virus synthesis. He was married to pianist Lise Bloch in 1947, and they had four children together. Lise passed away in 1983, and Jacob remarried Geneviève Barrier in 1999. Jacques Monod died on April 19, 2013, in Paris, France, at the age of 92.

Leave a Comment