Of Flies, Mice, and Men by François Jacob

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Who could have guessed that the lowly fruit fly might hold the key for decoding heredity? Or that the mouse might one day disclose astonishing evolutionary secrets? In a book infused with wisdom, wonder, and a healthy dose of wry skepticism, Nobel Prize-winning geneticist François Jacob walks us through the surprising ways of science, particularly the science of biology, in this century. Of Flies, Mice, and Men is at once a work of history, a social study of the role of scientists in the modern world, and a cautionary tale of the bumbling and brilliance, imagination and luck, that attend scientific discovery. A book about molecules, reproduction, and evolutionary tinkering, it is also about the way biologists work, and how they contemplate beauty and truth, good and evil.

Animated with anecdotes from Greek mythology, literature, episodes from the history of science, and personal experience, Of Flies, Mice, and Men tells the story of how the marvelous discoveries of molecular and developmental biology are transforming our understanding of who we are and where we came from. In particular, Jacob scrutinizes the place of the scientist in society. Alternately cast as the soothsayer Tiresias, the conscienceless inventor Daedalus, or Prometheus, conveyer of dangerous knowledge, the scientist in our day must instead adopt the role of truthteller, Jacob suggests. And the crucial truth that molecular biology teaches is the one he elaborates with great clarity and grace in this book: that all animals are made of the same building blocks, by a combinatorial system that always rearranges the same elements according to new forms.


About François Jacob

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Born in Nancy, France, Francois Jacob is a major figure in modern genetics. He shared the Nobel Prize with two other Frenchmen, Andre Lwoff and Jacques Monod, for explication of the "lac operon" (a gene regulation mechanism) in the bacterium E. Coli. The "lac operon" responds to information from outside the cell by activating (or inhibiting) certain genes that govern the production of enzymes involved in the metabolism of lactose and other sugars. This was the first gene regulation system to be fully understood, representing a major breakthrough in the field Jacob attended medical school in Paris. In 1940, when the Germans invaded France, he left medical school and joined the Free French Army. He fought the Germans in North Africa for four years and was injured during the Normandy invasion. After a long period of hospitalization, Jacob finished medical school. He did not recover sufficiently from his injuries to become a surgeon, so after graduation he accepted a job in an antibiotics laboratory. In 1950 he worked in Andre Lwoff's laboratory at the Pasteur Institute and began his research in genetics. In 1960 he became chairman of the Department of Cellular Genetics at the Pasteur Institute and in 1964 was appointed professor of the College de France. Since winning the Nobel Prize in 1965, Jacob continued his research and has written scientific and popular books.
Published January 15, 1999 by Harvard University Press. 166 pages
Genres: Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math. Non-fiction

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The genes coding for the myriad proteins that build the body’s structure and take responsibility for the body’s chemistry—regardless of species—are variations on some 2,000 bits of DNA sequence, assembled like a mosaic to form an endless variety of proteins (current jargon speaks of protein “moti...

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