In US and France, two uniquely similar professors

Two genetics experts with series of shared attributes enjoy collaborating, but suspect coincidences not bloodlines

March 17, 2022
Source: Austin O’Connor, Marshall University; Philippe Georgel, University of Strasbourg
Philippe Georgel, Marshall University, and Philippe Georgel, University of Strasbourg

Two experts in genetics are using their good names to offer a unique insight into the concept of randomness in human development.

One of them, Philippe Georgel, is a biologist at Marshall University in West Virginia. The other, also Philippe Georgel, is a biologist at the University of Strasbourg.

Living and working 4,300 miles apart, the two share an academic field but also a bit of an impish personality – long determined to amuse and confound colleagues by collaborating on a research publication, and finally carrying it out after 30 years.

“We’ve been talking about writing that article for a long time,” Professor Georgel of Marshall told Times Higher Education. “We just wanted to do an article, with two names, so that we would puzzle people.”

The nearly career-long delay was just a matter of being overworked academics, added Professor Georgel of Strasbourg. But both described pride in working on the article – an assessment published in Frontiers in Immunology of the ways that diet can be used to mitigate the development of gout.

The similarities do not stop there. Both were born in France in the early 1960s. Both chose wives of Germanic heritage. They share interests in running and hiking as well as easy banter, including eager talk of a future drinking session to plan their next collaboration.

But the numerous alignments of their lives are not enough to convince either that their similarities are much more than coincidences, not least because of the lack of evidence of any possible family ties.

Instead, it’s “serendipity, random events, chaos”, said Professor Georgel of Marshall.

The pair came to each other’s attention in the 1990s when colleagues began pointing out articles by the other. While they are revelling in the confusion now, an academic adviser to the US-based Philippe – then at Oregon State University – tried to put an end to it. After the nominal twins spoke on the phone and realised neither had a middle initial, the OSU adviser had his Philippe pick a random letter out of a book – a “T” – and begin adding it to his publications.

While the US-based Philippe was working with Carl Wu at the US National Institutes of Health, the Philippe of Strasbourg figured out later that he had been dispatched by his adviser in France to work in the same lab. He didn’t go, but only because his wife at the time refused to move to the US. Strasbourg’s Philippe did, however, eventually reach the western US, spending several years at the Scripps Research Institute near San Diego.

The two have yet to met in person, though they came close in recent years. For Professor Georgel of Strasbourg, it was a matter of running out of time during a visit to Cincinnati, 150 miles from the Marshall campus. Professor Georgel of Marshall came all the way to Strasbourg to give a talk, but his counterpart was out of town.

Ongoing planning talks, however, have revealed at least a couple of important differences. Professor Georgel of the US is hoping their meeting table will feature Belgian beer and single-malt Scotch. France’s Professor Georgel is suggesting “a nice bottle of wine”, and notes he is also “a very big fan” of Kentucky bourbon.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: ‘Twin’ scholars clone expertise

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Enjoyed the story!
As did I!
Thanks Paul.

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