Question n° 1. What is so disturbing about Granpa's theory that it should have triggered such strange reactions? Take for example, this famous experiment which was at the origin of molecular biology, which made the name of French science…
A bacterium called Escherichia coli is cultured on a medium containing glucose (a simple sugar found everywhere), lactose (a reserve sugar found in milk) and various mineral salts. The bacterium undergoes two phases of growth, separated by a period of latency, and the following can be observed:
- at the end of the first period of growth, the glucose has entirely disappeared from the medium, but the concentration of lactose is practically identical to what it was at the start;
- at the end of the second period of growth, the lactose has also disappeared.
Analyses performed show that during the intermediate period of latency the bacterium has synthesised an enzyme called b-galactosidase, the only enzyme in nature capable of breaking down lactose into glucose and galactose… One, unavoidable question is raised: how does this bacterium suddenly begin synthesising an enzyme (b-galactosidase) which it does not normally synthesise, and this is the only enzyme capable of releasing it from the trap into which it has fallen?
Within the context of Grandpa's biology, the answer to this question is like this:
1. The glucose is exhausted so the bacterium has no other source of external C immediately assimilable. It stops growing. It is hungry. It searches its sugar, fat and protein reserves, constituted during the first growth phase, while everything was going well. This leads to modification of the cell environment (denutrition), modification of enzyme activity, modification of hormone balance, modification of nuclear activity (in this case characterised by the synthesis of b-galactosidase) and start of growth once more.
2. For this experiment to succeed, you need:
- a bacterium called E. coli, which has in its genome a gene encoding for b-galactosidase, which is normally inactive, but which is stimulated into action during periods of famine.
- a medium containing a source of carbon which is immediately assimilable by this bacterium (in this case glucose), in small enough quantities for the E. coli not to be able to grow indefinitely.
- finally don't forget to include a little lactose so that once the glucose is exhausted and famine sets in, the bacterium will start to synthesise b-galactosidase and growth can start again. Without this the experiment would lose a lot of its appeal.
It must also be understood that this interpretation would not be disturbing at all if it didn't call into question this other explanation which is now legendary… an explanation which ignores all the strictly material contingencies we have just discussed, but has quite a different scenario which I shall attempt to explain to you, simplifying it a little to ensure that you stay awake.
1. In E. coli, the gene encoding b-galactosidase is a repressive gene, repressive because one end of its double DNA helix is locked by a protein which cannot be classified as either a structural protein or a reserve protein or an enzyme: a "repressor protein".
2. Once the glucose is exhausted, the bacterium must find the key to the "lock" which prevents the gene from expressing itself. This it does very easily by ingesting a few molecules of lactose from the medium. The molecules did not interest it before then, but giving evidence of unsuspected qualities (they were previously considered as simple reserve sugars), they move to the nucleus, penetrate it, find the gene encoding b-galactosidase and inactivate the repressor protein by forming a "lactose/repressor complex" with it. Because the key needed (and this is both the key to the lock and the key to the problem) is quite simply the lactose.
3. The "derepressed" gene can now go into action. It starts to synthesise b-galactosidase, which is why this enzyme is found in the medium, lactose is broken down and E. coli can start growing again.
In the end, what is disturbing about Grandpa's point of view is that, if it is correct, this scenario, considered to be one of the greatest in modern thought, risks collapsing like a house of cards… An eventuality which the scientific community is not ready to accept at present, as evidenced by this analysis made in 1991 of Grandpa's theory by two experts in the Commission of European Communities, at the request of President Delors:
“Grandpa's general hypothesis is not original because there is abundant literature on the effect of auxins, gibberellins and other hormones, acting alone or in synergy, on different aspects of plant physiology. It is also now agreed that the effect of hormones involves the activation/deactivation of genes, mainly at transcription level.
From a molecular point of view, the hypothesis according to which hormones interact directly on DNA AT and GC regions has the merit of being simple. However, nature does not follow the simplicity of human logic and molecular approaches made to this problem in plants point to a quite different direction. Indeed, transcriptional regulation occurs at short regions located in the promoter, the primary sequence of DNA, and not simply the AT/GC ratio which plays a dominant role here. It is also difficult to imagine a direct, specific link between plant hormones, which are small molecules and DNA, the tertiary structure of which lacks diversity to provide a bonding site with high affinity for these molecules. On the other hand, results obtained using the molecular approach, indicate rather the involvement of many regulation factors in the form of proteins, the complex structure of which allows bonding to specific sites on DNA. Hormones are therefore thought to be involved upstream of these regulation proteins. Receptors binding to certain hormones have also been isolated.
Finally, we should remember that the transcription promoters of various plant genes have been studied to the nearest base using in vivo analysis of genes, whose promoters have been modified by directed mutagenesis. These approaches support the model described above and not that of Grandpa.
In conclusion, Grandpa's hypothesis is not original in its general concept, seems somewhat unrealistic in its molecular model and does not take into account the data provided by recent literature".
Question n° 2. Did General de Gaulle really send an emissary to Stockholm to ask for a Nobel Prize for France in a scientific discipline? You can judge for yourself.
The Nouvel Observateur, 28 March 1996, 30 years after the events.
In winter 1966, de Gaulle was furious. The conventional atomic weapons held by France since 1960 would soon no longer be credible, outmoded by the H bomb which even the Chinese were on the point of producing… And French scientists were stumbling: not that they hadn't understood the general principle (they had known it for a long time), but they had not managed to find the little "trick" essential to building the device.
However, in April 1968, VLB1, the most powerful H bomb France had ever built, exploded over Fangatauga, a Polynesian atoll. What really happened? Even though de Gaulle praised "a magnificent scientific, industrial and technical success, achieved for the independence and security of France by its children’s elite", the true story of this first H bomb seems to have been rather different. It was, in fact, through the revelations of an English specialist (England had the H bomb since 1958) that the French had succeeded in developing this device in such a short time. It was therefore an ordinary story of espionage and was one of the best guarded secrets of the Fifth Republic.
La Vie, 10 August 1995, 50 years after the events.
In occupied France, no voices from the catholic hierarchy were raised to oppose the deportation of Jews. in 1942, Jules Géraud Saliège, archbishop of Toulouse, was the first to do so.
After Liberation, General de Gaulle understood that the temporary French government was badly short of ecclesiastics who could symbolise the spirit of Resistance, among its spokesmen: a new national unity could not be forged without Church participation.
De Gaulle thought of Monseigneur Saliège who, unknown before the war, was now very popular even outside his diocese and held unrivalled moral authority in the Church.
Georges Bidault, Minister of Foreign Affairs, therefore asked the Pope to award the cardinal's hat to Monseigneur Saliège. This was eventually done, although Pius XII was upset by this interventionism".
INRA plant physiology laboratory in Dijon, November 1965, several days after the events.
Grandpa was present at a conversation between the laboratory director and one of his colleagues. The director was a well-informed man: he was on a great many commissions, spent an average of two days a week in Paris and always knew two or three weeks before anyone else what credit was to be released for one project or another.
The two colleagues were most amused at "the General's furious temper on learning that the Nobel Prize for medicine and physiology had been awarded to two scientists whose discoveries we have just mentioned. It seems that he sent an emissary to Stockholm to ask that France should receive a Nobel Prize in a scientific discipline. He even submitted a list of names, but the prize winners were not known for their work in the Resistance and were not on this list".
Grandpa thought that is was not by chance that this conversation took place in his presence, the laboratory director doubtless wanting him to know this anecdote without actually telling him directly.
And now I must leave you, for the last time. Thank you for staying with me so far. I hope you have been interested and are asking questions and have perhaps even been convinced. Finally, I hope that you will take action with the competent authorities so that "Grandpa's Biology" and, why not, the "Peter Principle", should be included in school curricula. Life is like a pair of trousers held up by the braces of the hope, and I'm interested in the benefits…
This is 27 October 2000 and it is almost midnight. I'm going to bed now. Good night to all of you.