François Jacob: Wikis


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François Jacob
Born 17 June 1920 (1920-06-17) (age 89)
Nancy, France
Citizenship French
Known for operon
Notable awards 1965 Nobel Prize in Medicine

François Jacob (born 17 June 1920 in Nancy, France) is a French biologist who, together with Jacques Monod, originated the idea that control of enzyme levels in all cells occurs through feedback on transcription. He shared the 1965 Nobel Prize in Medicine with Jacques Monod and André Lwoff.


Childhood and education

François Jacob is the only child of Simon and Thérèse Jacob. An inquisitive child, he learned to read at a young age. At seven he entered the Lycée Carnot, where he was schooled for the next ten years; in his autobiography he describes his impression of it: "a cage". He describes his father as a "conformist in religion", while his mother and other family members important in his childhood were secular Jews; shortly after his bar mitzvah he became an atheist.[1]

Though interested (and talented) in physics and mathematics, Jacob was horrified at the prospect of spending two additional years in "an even more draconian regime" to prepare for higher study at the Polytechnique. Instead, after observing a surgical operation that cemented his "slight interest" in medicine, he entered medical school.[2]

During the German occupation of France—and on the heels of his mother's death—Jacob left France for Great Britain to join the war effort. Jacob, who had only completed his second year of medical studies, joined the medical company of the French 2nd Armored Division; he did not return to France until 1 August 1944, after four years in service in North Africa. He was injured in a German air attack, and was sent to now-liberated Paris to recover.[3] For his wartime service, he was awarded France's WWII highest decoration for valor, the Cross of Liberation, as well as Légion d'honneur and croix de guerre.

After his recovery, Jacob returned to medical school and began researching penicillin, which had been developed for mass production during the war—and learning the methods of bacteriology in the process. He completed a thesis he described as "replicating American work" on the effectiveness of the antibiotic against local infections, and became a medical doctor in 1947. Though attracted to research as a career, he was discouraged by his own perceived ignorance after attending a microbiology congress that summer. Instead he took a position at the Cabanel Center, where he had done his thesis research; his new work entailed the manufacture of another antibiotic, tyrothricin. Later, the center was contracted to convert gunpowder factories for penicillin production (though this proved impossible).[4]

Also in this period, he met and began courting his future wife, Lise.[5]


In 1961 Jacob and Monod explored the idea that the control of enzyme expression levels in cells is a result of feedback on the transcription of DNA sequences. Their experiments and ideas gave impetus to the emerging field of molecular developmental biology, and of transcriptional regulation in particular.

For many years it had been known that bacterial and other cells could respond to external conditions by regulating levels of their key metabolic enzymes, and/or the activity of these enzymes. For instance, if a bacterium finds itself in a broth containing lactose, rather than the simpler sugar glucose, it must adapt itself to the need to 1) import lactose, 2) cleave lactose to its constituents glucose and galactose, and 3) convert the galactose to glucose. It was known that cells ramp up their production of the enzymes that do these steps when exposed to lactose, rather than wastefully producing these enzymes all the time. Studies of enzyme activity control were progressing through theories of the (allosteric) action of small molecules on the enzyme molecule itself (switching it on or off), but the method of controlling the enzyme production was not well understood at the time.

With the earlier determination of the structure and central importance of DNA, it became clear that all proteins were being produced in some way from its genetic code, and that this step might form a key control point. Jacob and Monod made key experimental and theoretical discoveries that demonstrated that in the case of the lactose system outlined above (in the bacterium E. coli), there are specific proteins that are devoted to repressing the transcription of the DNA to its product (RNA, which in turn is decoded into protein).

This repressor (the lac repressor) is made in all cells, binding directly to DNA at the genes it controls, and physically preventing the transcription apparatus from gaining access to the DNA. In the presence of lactose, this repressor binds lactose, making it no longer able to bind to DNA, and the transcriptional repression is lifted. In this way, a robust feedback loop is constructed that allows the set of lactose-digesting proteins products to be made only when they are needed.

Jacob and Monod extended this repressor model to all genes in all organisms in their initial exuberance. The regulation of gene activity has developed into a very large sub-discipline of molecular biology, and in truth exhibits enormous variety in mechanism and many levels of complexity. Current researchers find regulatory events at every conceivable level of the processes that express genetic information. In the relatively simple genome of baker's yeast, (saccharomyces cerevisiae), 405 of its 6,419 protein-encoding genes are directly involved in transcriptional control, compared to 1,938 that are enzymes.

Awards and recognition


  • Sexuality and the Genetics of Bacteria by E.H. Wollmann and François Jacob, published by Academic Press, 1961
  • The Possible & The Actual by François Jacob, published in the United States by Pantheon Books, and in Canada by Random House of Canada, 1982
  • The Statue Within: An Autobiography by François Jacob, translated from the 1987 French edition by Franklin Philip. Basic Books, 1988.
  • The Logic of Life by François Jacob, translated from the 1976 French edition by Princeton University Press 1993
  • Of Flies, Mice and Men by François Jacob, translated from the French edition and published by Harvard University Press, 1998


  • Jacob, F; Perrin, D; Sánchez, C; Monod, J; Edelstein, S (Jun 2005). "The operon: a group of genes with expression coordinated by an operator. C.R.Acad. Sci. Paris 250 (1960) 1727-1729". Comptes rendus biologies 328 (6): 514–20. doi:10.1016/j.crvi.2005.04.005. ISSN 1631-0691. PMID 15999435.  
  • Ullmann, A; Jacob, F; Monod, J (Feb 1968). "On the subunit structure of wild-type versus complemented beta-galactosidase of Escherichia coli". Journal of molecular biology 32 (1): 1–13. doi:10.1016/0022-2836(68)90140-X. ISSN 0022-2836. PMID 4868117.  
  • Ullmann, A; Jacob, F; Monod, J (Mar 1967). "Characterization by in vitro complementation of a peptide corresponding to an operator-proximal segment of the beta-galactosidase structural gene of Escherichia coli". Journal of molecular biology 24 (2): 339–43. doi:10.1016/0022-2836(67)90341-5. ISSN 0022-2836. PMID 5339877.  
  • Ullmann, A; Perrin, D; Jacob, F; Monod, J (Jul 1965). "Identification, by in vitro complementation and purification, of a peptide fraction of Escherichia coli beta-galactosidase". Journal of molecular biology 12 (3): 918–23. doi:10.1016/S0022-2836(65)80338-2. ISSN 0022-2836. PMID 4285628.  
  • Willson, C; Perrin; Cohn; Jacob; Monod (Apr 1964). "Non-Inducible Mutants of the Regulator Gene in the "lactose" System of Escherichia Coli". Journal of molecular biology 8: 582–92. doi:10.1016/S0022-2836(64)80013-9. ISSN 0022-2836. PMID 14153528.  
  • Jacob, F; Ullman; Monod (Mar 1964). "The Promotor, A Genetic Element Necessary to the Expression of an Operon". Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des seances de l'Academie des sciences 258: 3125–8. ISSN 0001-4036. PMID 14143651.  
  • Jacob, F; Monod (1964). "Biochemical and Genetic Mechanisms of Regulation in the Bacterial Cell". Bulletin de la Societe de chimie biologique 46: 1499–532. ISSN 0037-9042. PMID 14270538.  
  • Monod, J; Changeux; Jacob (Apr 1963). "Allosteric proteins and cellular control systems" (Free full text). Journal of molecular biology 6: 306–29. doi:10.1016/S0022-2836(63)80091-1. ISSN 0022-2836. PMID 13936070.  
  • Jacob, F; Sussman; Monod (Jun 1962). "On the nature of the repressor ensuring the immunity of lysogenic bacteria". Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des seances de l'Academie des sciences 254: 4214–6. ISSN 0001-4036. PMID 14036499.  
  • Jacob, F; Monod (Jun 1961). "Genetic regulatory mechanisms in the synthesis of proteins" (Free full text). Journal of molecular biology 3: 318–56. doi:10.1016/S0022-2836(61)80072-7. ISSN 0022-2836. PMID 13718526.  
  • Monod, J; Jacob (1961). "Teleonomic mechanisms in cellular metabolism, growth, and differentiation". Cold Spring Harbor symposia on quantitative biology 26: 389–401. ISSN 0091-7451. PMID 14475415.  
  • Perrin, D; Jacob; Monod (Jul 1960). "Induced biosynthesis of a genetically modified protein not presenting affinity for the inductor". Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des seances de l'Academie des sciences 251: 155–7. ISSN 0001-4036. PMID 13734531.  
  • Buttin, G; Jacob; Monod (Mar 1960). "Constituent synthesis of galactokinase following the development of lambda bacteriophages in Escherichia coli K 12". Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des seances de l'Academie des sciences 250: 2471–3. ISSN 0001-4036. PMID 13806544.  
  • Jacob, F; Perrin; Sanchez; Monod (Feb 1960). "Operon: a group of genes with the expression coordinated by an operator". Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des seances de l'Academie des sciences 250: 1727–9. ISSN 0001-4036. PMID 14406329.  
  • Jacob, F; Monod (Oct 1959). "Genes of structure and genes of regulation in the biosynthesis of proteins". Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des seances de l'Academie des sciences 249: 1282–4. ISSN 0001-4036. PMID 14406327.  
  • Pardee, Ab; Jacob, F; Monod, J (May 1958). "The role of the inducible alleles and the constrtutive alleles in the synthesis of beta-galactosidase in zygotes of Escherichia coli". Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des seances de l'Academie des sciences 246 (21): 3125–8. ISSN 0001-4036. PMID 13547552.  
  • Jacob, F; Torriani, Am; Monod, J (Nov 1951). "Effect of ultraviolet rays on the biosynthesis of galactosidase and on the multiplication of T2 bacteriophage in Escherichia coli". Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des seances de l'Academie des sciences 233 (20): 1230–2. ISSN 0001-4036. PMID 14905606.  


  1. ^ Jacob, The Statue Within, pp 20-57. Quotes from pp 42 and 53.
  2. ^ Jacob, The Statue Within, pp 84-88. Quote from p 86
  3. ^ Jacob, The Statue Within, pp 98-165
  4. ^ Jacob, The Statue Within, pp 166-199
  5. ^ Jacob, The Statue Within, pp 199-206

External links

Cultural offices
Preceded by
Jean-Louis Curtis
Seat 38
Académie française



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