Brave Genius

I am reading a book entitled ‘Brave Genius’ about Albert Camus and Jacques Monod, their fight against the Nazis with the French resistance, their subsequent life long friendship, and their careers in which both won the Nobel prize, Camus for literature and Monod for medicine (shared with two colleagues).  While secretly working with the resistance, Monod lived and worked in Paris.  Once the gestapo came to his lab at the Sorbonne to search for incriminating materials.  They had previously searched his house without success (from their perspective).  Monod reports that they were very leery of the laboratory equipment, especially the petri dishes etc where he was  experimenting with bacterias and sugars, so they left after a cursory look, missing what he had hidden behind the equipment.

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As it turned out this series of experiments started him on the trail to understanding the molecular chemistry of cells, how genes interact with RNA to produce proteins and enzymes to build the cells and then carry out their functions.  Monod found that bacteria prefer some sugars over others.  When he mixed two sugars in the medium, he found that the bacteria ingested the preferred sugar first and then the second less preferred one and that there was a gap in between as the cells shifted their metabolism to the second.  He asked colleagues about this and they said they thought it was ‘enzyme adaptation’ but they did not really know what that was or how the cell recognized different sugars and then changed their chemistry to metabolize them.  Monod went on to study that and helped to found molecular biology as we know it today in doing so.  Wow.

And Camus?  What was Camus doing during this time, the philosophically inclined want to know.  He was helping to put out a newspaper for the resistance while recovering from a second bout of tuberculosis as he completed The Stranger, The Myth of Sisyphus, and The Plague.  Wow again.

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