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Monod, Jacques (Lucien)

control action operon jacob

[monoh] (1910–76) French molecular biologist: devised theories on the control of gene action.

A graduate of Paris, Monod taught zoology there from 1934, served in the French Resistance in the Second World War, and joined the Pasteur Institute in 1945, becoming its director in 1971. He worked particularly with F Jacob (1920– ) on the problem of how gene action is switched ‘on’ and ‘off’, especially in the enzyme syntheses they control in mutant bacteria, which in turn control the bacterial metabolism. In this area he introduced the idea of operons, groups of genes with related functions which are clustered together on a chromosome and are controlled by a small end-region of the operon called an operator. This in turn can be made inactive by a repressor, which combines with and switches off the operator. The scheme was developed in 1961 to include the idea of messenger RNA (mRNA), which carries genetic information from the DNA of the chromosomes (the operon) to the surface of the ribosomes, where protein synthesis occurs. These ideas found much support in experiments on microorganisms; their extension to more complex plants and animals is less firmly established. Monod and Jacob, with A Lwoff (1902–94), shared a Nobel Prize in 1965. Monod was talented and active as a sportsman, musician and philosopher. His work on the origin of life led him to argue that it arose by chance and evolved by Darwinian selection through necessity, with no overall plan.

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