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Geometries of the Living

Alain Prochiantz


Pierre Corvol
Traduction de Liz Libbrecht

Texte intégral

1Dear Alain Prochiantz,

2For many years you have been studying the creation and evolution of forms, a central theme in biology. Your curiosity in this field was stimulated by a completely unexpected observation that you made when, as a young student of the École normale supérieure, you were working in Jacques Glowinski’s laboratory at the Collège de France. You noticed that an exchange of information took place between two cell types concerning their position and that it determined the form of one of these categories of cells, in the case in point, the neurons. A seminal observation can feed an entire research field but it requires intelligence, courage and persistence, none of which you have lacked to support assumptions which initially went against established theories. Your results were disturbing in more ways than one: proteins supposed to reside in the nucleus, capable of being exported and of crossing through cell membranes and inducing a new type of signalling. In just under twenty years, you have gradually solved many of the questions raised by that early research: proteins and peptides are indeed capable of crossing through cell membranes. And this system of signalling serves in the navigation and positioning of neurons during the development of the nervous system. Your research at the École normale supérieure – and tomorrow at the Collège de France – is now internationally recognized and opens up new perspectives. Protein and peptide vectors are used to introduce various components into cells. You show how this information system is involved in nerve cells’ navigation and in the preservation of memory during evolution, and finally its possible involvement in adult morphogenesis, and thus in physiology.

3There is another Alain Prochiantz known for his books and theatrical projects. Actually, it is the same Alain Prochiantz, as this literary activity that you call “nocturnal science” is something that you see as consubstantial to your work as a researcher. You believe that making science part of culture is essential to the democratization of scientific knowledge. We are very pleased to welcome the original researcher that you are, with your concern to communicate with the general public. You are putting morphogenetic processes – which is the title of your Chair – back into an evolutionary perspective right at a time when the issue of evolution is philosophically – and even, might I say, politically – sensitive, in fact highly sensitive in certain countries.

© Collège de France, 2016

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