Science: Commentary:

The First Steps in the USA and in France Toward Great Discoveries In RNA and DNA

Prof. Dr. Serge Paul, Jubilee Research - Education (1952-2002)

Fifty years ago: In order to understand how scientific publications were linked between France and the United States, a short historical background should first be presented. In Europe the Second World War ended on the 7th of May 1945 and in the Far East hostilities ceased on the 2nd of September 1945.

At that time the French university laboratories would devote the next two years reorganizing their personnel, equipment and infrastructures. In 1948, the Lille University Research Institute on Cancer (Prof. J. Driessens) and the Biological Chemistry Department of the Medical and Pharmaceutical Faculty of the University of Lille (Prof. P. Boulanger) would become the very first to set up a program of research in the field of RNA/DNA research.

Telecommunications were still summary, and only at that time did we just begin to have full knowledge of the American chemical studies in RNA and DNA which were published in 1945. These works were particularly developed at the McArdle Memorial Laboratory of the Medical School at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (1), at Boston Dispensary, the Joseph H. Prat Diagnostic Hospital, and Tuffs College Medical School, Boston (2). That early research was carried out on animal tissues.

The Botanical Institute of the University of Lille, at the head of which was Prof. M. Hocquette, focused its work in plant cytochemistry on the chromatine of the nucleus of the meristem cells (3) and from there, it directed it's purpose to the search for a method of quantitative analysis of nucleic acids on plant tissues. A test protocol was settled in 1950 by J. Montreuil of the Cancer Institute and S. Paul of the Botanical Institute in order to search for the total phosphorous variations, the phosphorous of the RNA and DNA in a given plant tissue. In such studies, it was desirable that procedures be able to approximately estimate the 10-6g of nucleic acid should be programmed (5). These research studies sought after objectives comparable to those led in the USA at the Botanical Laboratories at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, in 1950 (4).

Our results formed the subject of Note at the Académie des Sciences in Paris in 1952 (6) concomitantly with J. Montreuil’s publications on the pentose nucleic acids (7). In these publications about eighty references stemming from international reviews published in English or from Accounts given by the Académie des Sciences, published in French, between 1945 and 1952 were brought forward.

Ever since 1952, research studies were developed in France at several Universities, particularly in Prof. Rob. Levy's Laboratory of Animal Physiology at the École Normale Supérieure, Paris rue d’Ulm (8).

That era of the first steps in DNA and RNA research brought forth the days of great discoveries on the structure of the DNA molecule (J.D. Watson and F.H. Crick; M.H.Wilkins, 1953, in Nature) and its implications in our present society and in the on-going research being conducted today.


(1) SCHNEIDER Walter C. Extraction and estimation of desoxypentose nucleic acid and of pentose nucleic acid. J. Bio.Chem. 161, 293-303, biblio., July, 1945.

(2) SCHMIDT Gerhard and THANNHAUSER S.J. A method of determination of desoxyribonucleic acid, ribonucleic acid and phosphoproteins in animal tissues. J. Bio. Chem. 161, 83-89, biblio., August, 1945.

(3) HOCQUETTE Maurice et PRUDHOMME Victor. Le noyau quiescent dans l’axe hypocotylé de Phaseolus vulgaris L. C.R. Académie des Sciences, Paris, t. 234, p.1303-1305, 1952.

(4) OGUR Maurice and ROSEN Gloria . The Nucleic Acids of Plant Tissues. The extraction and estimation of desoxypentose nucleic acid and pentose nucleic acid. Arch. Bioch. 25, 262-276, biblio., 1950.

(5) PAUL Serge. Variations quantitatives du phosphore total, du phosphore des acides ribo- et désoxyribonucléiques dans l’axe hypocotylé de Phaseolus vulgaris L. au cours de la germination normale, du jeune glucidique après ablation des cotylédons et de la régénération cellulaire par nutrition glucidique. Mémoire Diplôme d’études supérieures, Faculté des Sciences de Lille, 35 ff., tab., biblio., 1952.

(6) HOCQUETTE Maurice, MONTREUIL Jean et PAUL Serge. Physiologie végétale. C.R. Acad. des Sciences, Paris, t. 235, p.1525-1527, 1952.

(7) MONTREUIL Jean. Étude sur les acides pentose-nucléiques. Thèse d’État,114 ff, fig., tab., biblio., Lille, 1952.

(8) REY Louis. Étude de l’acide désoxyribonucléique traité par le chlorure de choline: propriétés physiques. Mémoire Diplôme d’études supérieures, Faculté des Sciences de Paris, 83 ff., tab., biblio., 1953.



PAUL Serge. Vocabulaire actuel de l’éducation, en 200 termes. La Maison du Dictionnaire, Éditeur, Paris, 4e trimestre 2001.

BWW Society Prof. Dr. Serge Paul graduated from the Ecole Normale Superieure de Paris and conducted early studies in DNA and RNA research shortly after the end of the Second World War. He has had a highly successful career in Airborne and Spaceborne Remote Sensing, and since 1988 has headed the Terminology Section of the French National Ministry of Education. He has published a number of educational dictionaries, most recently "Vocabulaire Actuel de l'Education en 200 Termes", and is this year celebrating the 50-year Jubilee of his career spanning 1952-2002.

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