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François Jacob

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 10 June 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3611
  1. Ned Stafford, Hamburg
  1. ns{at}

Molecular biology pioneer and Nobel prize winner

In the late 1940s no one suspected that François Jacob was a future Nobel prize winner. Jacob, approaching the ripe age of 30, was not yet sure what he wanted to do in life. He had a medical degree, but a wartime injury prevented him from pursuing his interest in surgery.

He dabbled in various possible careers—acting, journalism, banking—and then became intrigued with science. In 1950, after several rejections, he finally talked his way into a fellowship at the Pasteur Institute to work in the nascent field of molecular biology. At the time, in his own words, he was an “ignoramus” in science. “I knew nothing in science,” he admitted a half century later. “I decided that I give myself five years (in science)—either I find something in five years or I do something else.” Jacob found something. Indeed, a lot of things. In 1965 he and two Pasteur Institute colleagues—André Lwoff and Jacques Monod—were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology “for their discoveries concerning genetic control of enzyme and virus synthesis.”1

His science education began in …

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