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H&P Bio

History of life sciences

H&P Bio is a seminar on the history of life sciences, without restriction of theme or period, aiming to present themes and issues specific to the history of biology, distinguishing them and articulating them to the philosophy of biology. and life sciences.

Organisation : Laurent Loison (CNRS, SPHere), Caroline Angleraux (INSERM U 1253)

PROGRAM 2022-2023

The sessions will take place one or two Thursdays per month, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., in room 646A (Mondrian) of the Condorcet building, Université Paris Cité, 4 rue Elsa Morante, 75013 Paris.
For those who cannot be in-presence, a Zoom link will be communicated when each session is announced. Contact : C. Angleraux.

March 16

  • Michel Morange (IHPST)
    Comment et pourquoi écrire une biographie de Pasteur ?
    Écrire une biographie de Pasteur en 2022 était un défi. Il existe déjà de nombreuses biographies de lui, la biographie est un genre peu apprécié par les historiens des sciences, et la figure de Pasteur est aujourd’hui très controversée. Après avoir rappelé l’origine du projet, je décrirai l’approche utilisée, et les difficultés rencontrées. Je présenterai plusieurs nouvelles interprétations de la vie et de l’œuvre de Pasteur issues de ce travail, ainsi que quelques directions de recherche ouvertes par lui. La mise au point des vaccins, et la place de l’histoire des sciences sont deux questions que cet ouvrage demande d’examiner de plus près.

April 13

  • Robert Wegner (Fundação Oswaldo Cruz)

    Genetics, Animal Husbandry and racial mixture in Brazil (1929-1955)

    Resume :
    The Russo-American geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900-1975) is generally considered as the key figure in the development of genetics in Brazil and his first trip to Brazil, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, in 1943, is described as an inaugural moment. His research actually resulted in the development of various schools of population genetics in Brazil. Afterwards, in the 1950s, some geneticists of a new generation studied abroad and stimulated the exchange with James Neel and Newton Morton, who would also come to Brazil to supervise studies on human biological diversity and racial mixture. Consolidation of human population genetics laboratories in several Brazilian universities resulted in the creation of the Sociedade Brasileira de Genética in 1955.

    I want to approach such history from another side through the case of Octávio Domingues (1897-1972). Domingues was considered a geneticist and an eugenist long before the Second World War and Dobzhansky’s stay in Brazil. But after this stay, Domingues was no longer considered a "geneticist" and started to identify himself only as a "cattle breeder" (or zootechnicist). When researches into the genetics of the human population began to involve field works and serological researches, Domingues was no longer be considered a geneticist, because his research was based mainly on the controlled crossing of animals and observations of these results inspired by Mendel’s laws of heredity.

    Domingues became the organizer and the first president of the Sociedade Brasileira de Zootecnia, created in 1951. Since then, he has worked mainly in the field of Animal Husbandry, organizing a new scientific field : Zootecnia Tropical. In the 20th century, Caracu was the predominant cattle in the Northeastern region of Brazil. Many farmers began to import European cattle (Bos Taurus) in order to supply the international market of meats. On the other hand, Domingues defended the value of Caracu, the Creole livestock, and, later, he began to defend Zebu (Bos indicus) import. He considered Zebu a cattle better suited to the tropics and defended its mixture with Caracu cattle. Domingues continued to consider the Mendelian laws of heredity essential to promote the processes of "acclimatization", that required racial mixing.

    The way in which Domingues positioned himself with respect to cattle was connected with his defense of the mixed character of the Brazilian human population, one of his main themes before the Second War. Interestingly, the mixed race remained the main topos ; supported by modern Brazilian research groups in the human population genetics, after the Second World War.

May 11

  • Cécilia Bognon-Küss (Université Paris Cité, Labex « Who Am I », IHPST)
    You are what you eat". Mutations de l’identité métabolique.

    Resume :
    Variations on Feuerbach’s formula "Man is (ist) what he eats (isst)" (1862) have recently multiplied in the biomedical literature, in articles aimed at the general public, as well as in specialized journals in microbiology, immunology, ecology, environmental medicine, metabolomics, or nutritional epigenomics... The fact that dozens of scientific publications are entitled with a formula that makes nutrition a factor in determining identity is not without question, and it is this equivalence between nutrition and biological identity that I would like to examine.

    To put it lapidarily, to write today "You are what you eat", is it to reactivate a conception of nutrition that could be qualified as "direct", against the classical conceptual scheme of metabolism, in the same way that one could say that genetics had, from the 1960’s onwards, reactivated a theory of "preformation" under the concept of "genetic program" (Lewontin 2000, Jacob 1981, Jacob, 2000) ?

    Reading these articles, however, shows that behind this statement, which seems to indicate a communication of the properties of the food to the eater, these works do not designate a direct and binary relationship of transfer of identity from one pole to the other, but rather draw a triangular relationship, with three actors : the host’s metabolism, the food, and all the micro-organisms that make up the host’s microbiota, to which should be added the products of these relationships (metabolites, volatile fatty acids, etc.). To say that one is what one eats cannot therefore be based on conceptions of identity that are simply logical and atemporal (x = x) or even dialectical (assimilation as a process aiming at "overcoming" the otherness of the food in order to make it a substance homogeneous to the organism). This new nutritional conception of identity must, it seems, be understood in a dynamic and evolutionary way as the fruit of cooperation and conflict between organisms of different species : it is indeed a question of accepting the idea that heterogeneous elements (bacteria and food) can be constitutive of the individuality and identity of any living being.

    The multiplication of this expression in contemporary biomedical sciences seems to me to be taken seriously, both as a symptom to be questioned (why has nutrition become a privileged framework for thinking about identity ? and conversely, why this emphasis on identity in the characterization of nutrition ?) and as an indication of the reconfigurations at work in the nutritional sciences. The question is not only about the complex and changing relationships between nutrition, environment and biological identity, but also about the way these relationships affect each of the terms we are dealing with : what does the adoption of a nutritional or metabolic point of view do to our conception of biological identity ? Conversely, what does the environmental turn in biology and medicine, through microbiology and epigenetics in particular, do to our conception of metabolism ? Finally, how do these renewed conceptions of nutrition and metabolism affect the categories with which we traditionally apprehend the living ?

    I propose to return to the philosophical and scientific context in which this statement "man is what he eats" was formulated, in order to grasp, by contrast, the implications of this contemporary mediation by microbes and food in the elaboration of metabolic identity. I will begin by outlining why metabolism can be held as a privileged framework for thinking about the notion of biological identity and what kinds of conceptions of biological identity the reference to nutrition and metabolism traditionally underlies. This step will then allow me to articulate a metabolic conception of identity with recent discoveries about the role of heterospecific entities in the construction and maintenance of organisms.

    Brüssow H., Parkinson S. (2014). You are what you eat. Nat Biotechnol 32, 243–245.
    Frischkorn K., You are what you eat, and what you eat is millions of microbes. Smithsonian Magazine, 14 juin 2017.
    Zmora, N., Suez, J. & Elinav, E. (2019) You are what you eat : diet, health and the gut microbiota. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol 16, 35–56 (2019)
    Moszak M., Szulińska M., Bogdański P. (2020) You Are What You Eat—The Relationship between Diet, Microbiota, and Metabolic Disorders—A Review. Nutrients. 12(4):1096.
    Spector T., You are what you eat. Why the future of nutrition is personal. The conversation. 27 juin 2019.
Download program

June 15

  • Pietro Corsi (Oxford Centre for the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology)
    Lamarck : que reste-t-il à découvrir ?

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Université Paris Cité, Room Mondrian, 646A, Condorcet Building, 4, rue Elsa Morante, 75013 - Paris*. Access.
Itinerary with website of public transport RATP
Metro : lines 14 and RER C, stop : Bibliothèque François Mitterrand ou ligne 6, stop : Quai de la gare. Bus : 62 and 89 (stop : Bibliothèque rue Mann), 325 (stop : Watt), 64 (stop : Tolbiac-Bibliothèque François Mitterrand)