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Chapter I: Introduction

François Jacob, Jacques Monod


When we were kindly invited by the organizers of this conference to prepare an introduction, we, of course, accepted gratefully and started wondering what we should say. The first possibility was to discuss the history of the development of the lac operon. This we decided we should not like to do. It is for philosophers, not for scientists, to analyze the vagaries of scientific progress and ponder over the mysteries of inductive logic.

The next possibility was to talk about the future, but we decided that we would not like to do that either. Experience has shown that one is almost invariably beaten at that kind of game. However, having eliminated these two subjects, we discovered that there was nothing left for us to say, except, of course, praise the organizers for their initiative and for their organization.

Since, however, this would make the introduction a little bit too short, the only solution is to say something after all of the history of the system and also indulge in a little vaticination.

As far as history goes, it may be of some interest to simply list what we believe to have been the main turning points in the exploration of the lac system. The first, of course, was the choice of the system itself. As always luck was combined there with a systematic approach. It had been known for a long time that there are coliform organisms which do not ferment lactose and yet throw out colonies of lactose fermenters...

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