Jacques Monod: A Visionary in Molecular Biology and Genetics

OV Digital Desk

Jacques Monod (9 February 1910 – 31 May 1976) was a French biochemist. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1965.

Life and Career

He was born on 9 February 1910, in Paris, France. In October 1928, he enrolled at the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Paris to study the natural sciences. His science degree was earned in 1931 and he started pursuing a Ph.D. at the ‘University of Strasbourg’.

He became an assistant professor of zoology at the faculty of sciences in 1932. From 1932 to 1934, he investigated the evolution of life. He got a Rockefeller fellowship to study genetics at Caltech in 1936. For a year, he worked in Thomas Hunt Morgan’s lab at Caltech on Drosophila genetics.

During his doctoral studies, he studied bacterial growth on sugar mixtures and described sequentially applying two or more sugars. His term diauxic means two specific bacterial growth phases developing in two sugars that he observed repeatedly. In 1941, he got his Ph.D. in the natural sciences.

He joined the prestigious Pasteur Institute of France as Lab Director for Andre Lwoff’s department. He became the director of the “Cell Biochemistry Department” in 1954. In 1958 Monod, Jacob, and Arthur Beck Pardee did an experiment that became famous as the PaJaMo. As a result of this experiment and later research, scientists discovered that protein synthesis can start almost instantly as a gene enters an E. coli cell.

In 1959, he became a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Paris. In 1961, Monod and Jacob worked on genetic data transfer and the control pathways that control macromolecule synthesis in bacteria. Those experiments led to the discovery of messenger RNA (mRNA), another species of RNA.

Among their many achievements, Jacob and Monod developed the Lac operon in E. coli that encodes a protein for transferring lactose and breaking it down. Their model explained how some proteins are controlled in the cell. Based on their model, protein development is restricted when a DNA- or RNA-binding protein, or a repressor, encoded by a regulatory gene, binds to a segment of DNA.

They found that regulator genes control structural genes’ activities. He became a professor at the ‘Collège de France in 1967. He became director of the Pasteur Institute in 1971 after joining the institute in 1945. He wrote a book called ‘Chance and Necessity: Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology’ about the evolution of life he saw as a result of natural processes. He died on 31 May 1976 in Cannes, France.

Award and Legacy

In 1965, he got the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with François Jacob and Andre Lwoff.