Jean Brachet (1909–1988)


This article gives a short account of the work and life of the Belgian molecular embryologist and cytologist Jean Brachet (1909–1988). Jean Brachet was born in Belgium and educated as a physician at the Free University of Brussels. Still while studying, he started to do cytological experiments in the laboratory of Albert Dalcq, looking into the cellular distribution of nucleic acids (DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and RNA (ribonucleic acid)). During the 1940s, he established, together with his colleagues Raymond Jeener and Hubert Chantrenne, and under difficult political and material circumstances, the view that RNA is implicated in protein synthesis. Moreover, he identified the cellular granules then called microsomes (today's ribosomes) as the sites of the fabrication of proteins. After the Second World War, he became the leading figure of the Brussels (Rouge Cloître) school of molecular biology. Together with Adrienne Ficq, he developed a potent method of cyto‐autoradiography. On a science policy level, he was instrumental in establishing molecular biology in Belgium and in creating the European Molecular Biology Organization and Laboratory. Throughout his life, Brachet's experimental efforts aimed at understanding organismic development at a molecular level.

Keywords: molecular embryology; molecular biology; DNA and RNA staining; hypereosinophilic syndrome; cytoplasmic RNA; protein synthesis; Rouge Cloître group


Brachet J (1944) Embryologie chimique. Liège and Paris: Editions Desoer and Masson et Cie.

Brachet J (1960) The Biological Role of Ribonucleic Acids. Amsterdam – London – New York – Princeton: Elsevier Publishing Company.

Brachet J (1985) Introduction to Molecular Embryology, 2nd edn. (in collaboration with H. Alexandre) Berlin: Springer Verlag.

Chantrenne H (1961) The Biosynthesis of Proteins. New York – Oxford – London – Paris: Pergamon Press.

Chantrenne H (1997) Preface. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 19 (1): 7–9.

Thomas R (1997) The impact of the Rouge Cloître as seen by a geneticist. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 19 (1): 13–18.

Further Reading

Brachet J (1980) Un demi siècle de recherches en embryologie et en cytologie. Journal of Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology 67B: 367–372.

Brachet J (1989) Recollections on the origins of molecular biology. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 1000: 1–5.

Burian R, Thieffry D (eds) Research Programs of the Rouge‐Cloître Group (1997Special Issue), History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 19 (1).

Chantrenne H (1990) Notice sur Jean Brachet Membre de l'Académie. Académie Royale de Belgique, Annuaire: 3–87 (including a complete bibliography).

Thieffry D (2008) Brachet, Jean Louis. New Dictionary of Scientific Biography, pp. 370–377.

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How to Cite close
Rheinberger, Hans‐Jörg(Sep 2015) Jean Brachet (1909–1988). In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0025069]