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Antoine Danchin

Keywords: adenylate cyclase, bioinformatics, microbial genomics, sulfur metabolism, synthetic biology, horizontal gene transfer

Science and Philosophy: creative destruction; a sequel of presocratic thought; synthetic biology; living organisms as information traps; the future of Science

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Scopus Author ID: 7103235597

Personal Information


Mathematician and physicist, AD entered experimental microbiology in the early seventies. To understand the rules of gene organisation in Bacteria, AD initiated in 1985 a collaboration with computer scientists to use artificial intelligence techniques for the study of integrated problems in molecular genetics. This convinced him that it was time to investigate genomes as wholes, based on an important effort in computer sciences. In 1987 he proposed to sequence the genome of Bacillus subtilis. This was shaped in 1988 into an European collaboration, supported by Japan from 1990 and completed in 1997. The first unexpected discovery of this work was, in 1991, that many genes (then, half of the genes) were of completely unknown function. A great many of these genes are involved in processes leading to occupation of a particular niche, and are therefore essential for pathogenicity and virulence. Recently, his work established that genomes are organised into a core genome coding for functions reminiscent of the origin of life, the paleome, and a set of genes, the cenome, permitting the organism to occupy a particular niche. The paleome comprises genes essential to permit life and genes necessary to propagate life, making living organisms information traps. This is at the heart of the contribution of AD to Synthetic Biology. AD authored 360 scientific articles and 200 articles in the domain of epistemology, ethics and popularisation of Science. He has published four books, including a book on the origin of life and a book on genomes (The Delphic Boat, Harvard University Press, 2003). He has a continuous interest in exchanges with other civilisations (creation of a Chinese-European University Without Walls in 1990). This triggered his interest to promote genome research in Hong Kong, where he stayed for three years, creating the HKU-Pasteur Research Centre in 2000 and setting up, with the support of the government of Hong Kong, a bioinformatics infrastructure for genomics. A former research director at the CNRS and head of a research Unit (Genetics of Bacterial Genomes) at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, he was the director of the Department Genomes and Genetics there. He is now the president a company focusing on metabolic bioremediation of chronic stresses (ageing included), to help patients on long-term drug treatment to overcome the secondary effects of drugs as well as propose remedies to the ravages of age.


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