Jacques Benveniste and the "memory of water"

Jacques Benveniste (1935-2004)

Jacques Benveniste (1935-2004) was a top-level French biochemist of impeccable scientific credentials, the discoverer of the PAF-acether platelet-activating factor, which could have sufficed to bring him a Nobel Prize. In the 1980s and 1990s he engaged in research which seemed to uncover a hitherto unknown property of water : « memory» (a loaded term, which was not his own). In 1988, he was asked by the editor-in-chief of the magazine Nature to withdraw a peer-reviewed article which had been accepted for publication. He refused, and his descent to hell began. His work was attacked as « fake science » by the watch-dog magazines of popular science, and others. Even a stage magician was hired (by Nature...!) to discredit him. You will find any amount of slurs on him on the net. By 1995, his lab and funding were taken away. He continued his experiments in a shack on the parking lot of his former lab. He was hounded – literally – to death : he died in 2004, age 69, after a heart operation, his third. Yet, a few prominent scientists and Nobel Prize winners, such as physicist Brian Josephson, continued to take him seriously. In 2010, Luc Montagnier, Nobel Prize winner in medicine and discoverer of the HIV virus, picked up on his experiments and is presently continuing in his line of research. Luc Montagnier, now at Jiao-tong University in Shanghai, calls Benveniste « the Galileo of the XX century. » In 2001, A few years before his death, his friend, physicist Jean-Pierre Petit wrote about him informally on his blog. Here is a translation of this text.

On Jacques Benveniste - by Jean-Pierre Petit

I must confess that it has been a long time that I wanted to talk about my friend Jacques. But, not being a biologist myself, it was difficult for me to comment on his work and his approach, with which I have been familiar for a long time. It all goes back about a decade. At that time, Benveniste was interested in experiments done « in high dilution. » He has a solid competence as an immunologist, of international reknown. The research was about the immunological reaction of human blood to bee-venom. Despite not being an expert in this matter, I remember that the presence of this venom provokes in lymphocytes a phenomenon of « degranulation » in so-called « basophile » cells, intervening in immunological reaction mechanisms, a phenomenon which can be put in evidence by means of a coloring substance. The intensity of this degranulation could therefore be measured by counting, when examining samples under a microscope. Therefore – the approach consisted in submitting samples of human blood to specific doses of bee’s venom. The degranulation occurs, and the intensity of this immunological response is evaluated through  counting done by lab-workers with their eye firmly set on their microscope....At first, the immunological response decreases as one diminishes the dose of venom. 

But beyond a certain level of dilution, the phenomenon does not disappear, as one would expect. «Worse, » the degranulation phenomenon remains detectable and perfectly measurable at dilutions such that no molecule of venom should be left over in the test tube. From the standpoint of classical chemistry, there is a total contradiction. « Normally, » the effect should disappear in the same time as the « effector. » If the latter is no longer present, what can be causing this remaining degranulation ? The press launched the expression « the memory of water. » Let’s make it clear that the expression found its origin in the press and not in the mouth of Jacques Benveniste himself. An article was sent to the British magazine Nature, universally respected. It was reviewed by an anonymous expert and as it happened that the testing protocols seemed to have been carried out according to all the rules, and given the norms used in biology, the auhors were informed that the paper had been accepted. At this point, Maddox, the chief editor, found out about it and entered in a tif. It seemed to him « impossible » that such a result was not due to an « error in testing. » He demanded that Benveniste withdraw his article, lest he could expect a damaging campaign in the press. Benveniste refused, and the paper was published, provoking a scandal. Various reviews then attacked his work (in his article, Benveniste had merely reported the observed facts, without offering an interpretation). The magazine Science et Vie, in France, lead the battle against this new « fake science. » In its pages, journalists wrote : « How do you want a molecule as simple as water to have a memory ? » etc Benveniste  was reproached for having entrusted the counting of the degranulation of the « basophiles » to his female collaborators, thus maybe introducing a « purely human » measuring error [his team counted some 50 persons at the time.] 

I wont give you the history of the tribulations Benveniste went through during twelve years, which I have been able to follow as a friend practically day by day. It was the Stations of the Cross. Leaving behind this manipulation of immunological reaction under the action of venom, Jacques started experiments in which he triggered the acceleration of the heart beat of a hamster under the effect of the injection of another type of effector, always in dilutions such that the phenomenon should logically have been absent. The acceleration of the animal’s heartbeat could be seen by any visitor to his lab and Benveniste carried on a demonstration for the Nobel Laureate Georges Charpak, who was very impressed. Yet Benveniste struggled along the way to master this experiment. Indeed, there is nothing simple in this. As you are not knowing what is really at work, how can you know that you are mastering all the parameters of the experiment ? One must be able to have access to everything, even produce one’s own distilled water. In all logic, the lab should have had its own, completely isolated animal farm. The immune system of an animal can a priori be sensitive to multiple paramaters, such as pollen, for instance. During the first year, for instance, Benveniste discovered that the phenomenon seemed to disappear during the cold season.

The important thing was to understand what were the good conditions for the experiment. Apparently, the reaction of the hamsters seemed to be less strong when their bodies, in the "wrong" season, seemed to enter into some sort of the phase of « latency. » Etc.

Where sophisticated means should have been put at the disposal of this researcher, he found himself, in 1995 if I remember well, thrown out of his own lab at INSERM  (Institut National de la Recherche et de la Santé) by his « long time friend, » polytechnician Philippe Lazar, the general director of INSERM (such was the expression used in the necrological article of Benveniste published in Le Monde by  Michel Alberganti and Jean-Yves Nau on October 6, commenting on his death). Being stubborn, Benveniste decided to settle down in a cramped modular Algeco shack, in the yard of his former lab. It’s deplorable. But the French scientific community estimated that (and is still estimating) that he had not been able to come up with an irrefutable proof of his results.

A simple remark in passing, imagined by Jean-Marie Souriau (my friend, the mathematician). Can one imagine an experiment comprising successive dilutions where the observed phenomenon becomes insensitive to the dilution rate, the « effector » having physically disappeared ? Yes, answered Souriau : imagine tubs of one square meter containing water in « supercooling ». It will turn to ice if the least impurity in it can serve as a seed to start the growth of the ice. This seed, this impurity, can be anything, like, a hair from your nostrils. The first container will ice over. Then with a spoon, you take one square centimeter of ice, anywhere in this container. The probability that you will pick up the impurity : one in a hundred thousand. Throw this ice in the next container. This young ice will then immediately play the role of a seed to trigger the icing of this container. Take one more one square centimeter sample anywhere, by chance, of this new one square meter of ice. The probability to pick up the impurity goes to 10-8. By the time you reach the seventh container, you are at 10-28. The chances of impurity being in the spoon are down to nil. And yet, the successive containers continue congealing to ice.

What link could there be between this and an immunological or a biological experiment ? Two theoretical physicists from Italy, Preparata (deceased) and Del Giudicce advanced a hypothesis some ten years ago. We know practically nothing, they said, about the liquid state of water. The « classical » theory consist in supposing that « hydrogen bridges » suffice to create, below a certain temperature, links sufficiently strong between water molecules for the transition phase to operate, for the substance to go into the liquid state at much higher temperature than would molecules of a comparable complexity such as ammonia NH3 or carbon dioxide CO2, or sulfur dioxyde SO2.

But these two physicists, in a vivid debate in a winter resort (Puy Saint Vincent) at an event organized by the journalist of France-Inter Jean-Yves Casgha: "Science-Frontière", in presence of representatives of Institut Pasteur, showed the results of numeric simulations where one could see the behavior of water molecules during one thousandth of a second, at a temperature slightly above the temperature of condensation : 100° C. These molecules flew about like crazy, and the scientists expressed their scepticism concerning such « hydrogen bridges » in a medium so agitated. Without excluding resorting to such links, which are very strong, we must admit that the liquid state of water is very badly known. At best, some physico-chemists agree to think that liquid water would be constituted by the assemblage of molecules connected by such bridges, but  it turns out that they are unable to explain their exact structure, nor to indicate the number of molecules of H2O which would be making them up. Knowing nothing about chemistry nor biochemistry, I will be content reporting their declarations. But I remember perfectly that, during this verbal joust which occurred at Puy Saint Vincent, I heard the following sentence, spoken by a chemist of the Centre National de La Recherche Scientifique;  it stayed in my memory:

- Well, as far a I am concerned, I do not know why water is liquid at an ordinary temperature, and this does not keep me from sleeping at night !

This is one view of things. Yet, water is not a rare, exotic substance. As Souriau pointed out to me when I returned : 

« In the contrary, it is an extremely reactive chemical substance participating in many phenomena of… hydration. The hardening of concrete is a hydration. In modern buildings, we are living in structures which contain a great proportion of water. If someone arrived on a planet where there was none and dropped a drop of water at the surface, there would immediately occur a violent reaction of hydration. »


At Puy Saint Vincent, Preparata and Del Guidicce, physicists  had suggested that collective phenomena might happen when water liquefied : the apparition of « quasi-molecules » putting into play a great number of H2O elements. What would be structuring these "quasi-molecules" ? A phenomenon, they said, comparable to the "maser" effect, operating in the vast interstellar molecular clouds.

Where would the energy come from ? asked a chemist. From the thermic energy of water, answered Preparata (he occupied the chair for quantum mechanics at the University of Milan) . But, the chemist asked again, what would happen if one took away this source of energy ?

- Then the water would change into ice, my friend...

Preparata and Del Giudicce suggested that there is not just « one water, » but « waters, » possessing different « quasi-molecular » structures, determined by the impurities which they contained. These structures would be moreover « auto-reproductive, » which could explain, according to them, how a certain information could become memorized, despite strong dilutions. So far as I can tell, that’s what I seem to have remembered, at the time. It was also said that in these experiments at high dilution, when the samples of pure water, were heated to 70°C, the effects disappeared. One will note that this structure of "quasi-molecules" is not incompatible with « hydrogen bridges » working as binding factors. 

The lack of interest chemists had for… water left me dumbfounded at the time. There was not only this problem of liquefaction at a high temperature. Paradoxically, water is problably one of the greatest mysteries of chemistry and biochemistry. As Benveniste remarked, bio-molecules tend to hydrate themselves, meaning in fact, to surround themselves with a cocoon constituted by tens of thousands of water molecules. Ben had difficulty seeing how the model then in fashion at the Pasteur Institute and in the whole world of biochemistry generally, the sacro-sact model of the « key and lock » could function in such circumstances. He imagined that the biomolecules could communicate at a distance, and not through contact, by using their enveloppes of water-molecules as a transceiver of electromagnetic waves. And my God, why not ? But all this was at the opposite end of the dominant theses.

Things « got worse » when Jacques, a few years ago, imagined that one might be able to record the signals emitted by these biomolecules so « cocooned. » In this way, the biological information,  which according to him constituted the real effector, could be memorized, coded, duplicated. One can imagine the risks run by the powerful international pharmaceutical trusts. The experiments followed upon each others, carried out in this prefab shack which does not honor our ministery, nor the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. At present [2001], Jacques has automated the analyses he is conducting by utilizing small robots, machines displacing a manipulating arm taking up the test tubes, adding reactives, etc. The research has gained in precision and rigor, all human intervention disappearing (Jacques has been often overtly accused of being a fraud !).


For a while, his detractors accused him of « running » for the Boiron society, the maker of homeopathic products. As time passed, one had to admit that this was not the case. Benveniste was merely a « research freak, » who sacrifized a career which could have been « brilliant. » An attractive man, endowed with a sense of retort and with humor : he would even have had all that is needed to become a politician. He had against him only one defect : he believed in research and, in fact, he sacrificed everything to it and got nothing but... crap in return. Knowing about his health problems, I have often asked myself how he has managed to hold out so long (three years, in fact, since the day I wrote these lines, as he died in octobre 2004).

However, and this is why I am writing this, these experiments have been replicated by the biologist Madeleine Ennis, of Queen's University in Belfast. Far from being a « fan » of the famous « Ben », quite the opposite, she had wanted to redo the experiments in an optic of the greatest scepticism. But the new fact was that she was able to use a counting system exempt of any human intervention, which Jacques never had at his disposal. And, surprise, her results confirmed those obtained twelve years earlier by Benveniste.  The Guardian dedicated an article to this affair in his 2001 March 15 issue, in which Ennis stated that she began the research as a skeptic, but concluded that the "results compel me to suspend my disbelief and start searching for rational explanations for our findings." Her work was published in the Inflammation Research Journal. 

In France, the Quotidien du Médecin publishes a one page article signed by Vincent Bargouin, in issue 6900 of April 18, 2001. Let’s just quote a sentence from the beginning of the article :

In the 1990s, not everybody by any means was content with the excommunication of Jacques Benveniste and, with him, of any option related to the « memory of water. » Some irreductibles have redone the experiments. Some have done so in secret, but others have told about it. 

You have indeed read the word "excommunication..." A first, in France...

I talked to him on the phone on April 25, 2001. I wanted to congratulate him on this article published a few days earlier, where people were finally talking in his favor.

- Yes, but what will it change ? Many politicans have the "Quotidien du Médecin" on their table every morning. And I see nothing coming.

Who will lift a finger ? Who will take this courageous man out of his shack where he and his team (one might say, his faithful) are camping ? I am not sure that this help will come his way. My old Jacques, I am afraid you are deluded. A minister is but a hollow sound. It’s not made for action, nor to decide anything, especially not in matters of research. It « manages the day to day affairs. » I once had lunch with a minister. That was long ago. He had invited researchers who were into micro-informatics, when it was still at its beginnings. At dessert, he gave us a nice speech. I wanted to say to him :

- Stop it. We are not voters. You are not on television. Please, for once, tell us something more intelligent.....

I showed him my CAO software, the first running on a microship. I wanted to plant it in the National Education system. I thought that it might awaken feelings for technical things in young people. But I think he thought that it was a video game.

What are these attempts at going against the mainstream leading to ? Sometimes one can ask. It is so much easier to howl with the wolves, to follow the pack, to censure in the depths of one's own self any temptation to a truly innovative thought. For the comfort of one’s career is at that price. Someone who wants to succeed will have to leave by the wayside his brother in difficulty and ignore him, if the majority of his colleagues is against him. Our system is built like a mafia. It has its omertà, its law of silence. One of my students, who got a scientific prize for ideas which were not his own, he knows this very well, made a very comfortable career. He even became a regional director of the CNRS. Somewhere, he is pursuing his rise. Who knows, maybe he will become a minister some day ? He won’t be worse than another. But must one envy these people ? Personally they bore me to the core. They have the eyes of dead fish. I prefer people like Benveniste.

But what’s a drag it is, not to be able to get research ahead, to lack means, while being the witnesses of absurd waste. I can’t say that I am getting used to it. You just resign yourself, that’s all. 

Luc Montagnier

Driven by curiosity, Luc Montagnier, Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of the HIV virus, took up Benveniste’s research again. From his first experiment on the blood plasma of patients infected with AIDS, he detected electromagnetic waves. In order to shed light on the astonishing properties of water discovered by Benveniste, Luc Montagnier decided to lift the veil on his research and to carry out, in front of cameras, a surprising experiment: the transduction of DNA. Are we moving towards digitized biology?

Molecules of the DNA of a patient infected by HIV, highly diluted in sterile water, were placed on a captor of electromagnetic waves connected to a computer. The signal so obtained and digitized was then sent by email to the University of Sannio in Benevento, Italy. After having exposed a test tube of pure water to these digitized waves, the Italian team used Polymerase Chain Reaction, which allows to replicate a sequence of DNA. Against all expectations, a molecule 98% identical to the original one in Paris was indeed reconstituted in this water solution. 

Water indeed has a memory! How is this possible? It is hard to know, because “the problem this raises presently is that it is asking of biologists to be at once physicists and chemists, and that is not necessarily easy for them,” explains Marc Henry, a professor for chemistry and quantum physics at the University of Strasbourg. For Prof Luc Montagnier, who is already working on applications concerning the AIDS virus, autism, some forms of multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer and Parkinson, the perspectives are immenses. For this discovery would put into question the present medical approach, on the plane of diagnostic as well as on the plane of therapy – for the human body is made of 70 % water. "The day we admit that waves can have an action, we can act by way of the waves. This is a new domain in medicine which scares the pharmaceutical industry."

Source: http://www.jacques-benveniste.org/

1999 conference at Cambridge

Mid-March 1999, Benveniste communicated his latest research by his lab “Digital Biology”’ near Paris to a full crowd of scientists gathered at the Pippard Conference Center at the Cavendish Physics Lab at University of Cambridge. Among them Andrew Huxley, Nobel Prize winner and former President of the Royal Society, and Prof Brian Josephson also a Nobel Prize winner.

At the beginning, Benveniste asked a few seemingly childish questions:  if molecules could speak, what sound would make, and more precisely, can we lend them an ear, listen to their conversation, record them and then play them back? For Benveniste the answer is: yes.

Active molecules such as adrenaline, nicotin and coffein, virus and bacteria signatures can be recorded, digitized with the help of a computer sound card. And with a click, these signals can be made to travel all over the planet via Internet. According to Benveniste, one can trigger biological systems far away from their activated molecules simply by playing back the recordings. For adrenalin, for instance, he does not think that the biochemical events which among other things make blood vessels contract are merely due to chance collisions between adrenalin molecules and their receptors (the habitually accepted theory). If this were the case, one would take more time to get angry.

Benveniste gives a fairly anodine analogy with music. Two strings vibrating together on neighboring frequencies will produce a beat. The length of the beat increases as the two frequencies get closer and when they merge, the beat disappears. This is how musicians tune their instruments and how he explains his theory of the memory of water. All molecules are made of atoms which vibrate constantly and emit in a very complex way an infrared radiation (which has been detected for years and which constitutes for scientists an essential part of the panoply of methods of identification of molecules).

However, because of the complexity of their infrared vibrations, molecules also produce beats in lower frequencies. As it happens, they are in the range perceptible by humans (20 à 20.000 Hertz) and are specific to every molecule. For instance they emit equally frequencies in the range of the human voice, and this is the signal which Benveniste detects and records.

If molecules can emit, then they can also receive. The specific emissions of one kind of molecule will be capted by another endowed with the molecular structure necessary to receive it. Benveniste call this correspondence co-résonance and says that it functions like a radio set: different tuning, different sounds.

In this way, states Benveniste, biological molecules manage to communicate at the speed of light with their own corresponding molecule and with none other. This is why minuscule changes in the structure of a molecule can deeply affect its biological effect. It is not because these structural changes make it badly adjusted with its biological receptor, as in the classical approach. The changes bring the molecule out of tune in relation to its receptor. Moreover, just as with radio sets and receptors, molecules do not need to be close for communication to occur.

The role of water in all that? The molecule being surrounded by water from all sides, one single molecule has around it 10,000 molecules of water which are as many agents which relay and amplify the biological signal coming from the original molecule.

It’s like a CD which of itself cannot give out any tune, but which has the means to create it, engraved on its surface. In order to hear the sound, you must go through an electronic amplifier. Just as the singer on the CD is there as a memory, water memorizes and amplifies signals which have been dissolved to the point of having ceased to exist. It is not necessary for the molecules to be there, only their imprint in the solution in which they have dissolved. And it’s the agitating which creates the memory.

What is the sound of molecules like? Didier Guillonnet, a colleague of Benveniste, says that we don’t know enough yet to recongnize a model. The recording of a coffein molecule for instance gives a spectrum resembling noise. Yet, when one plays back the recording onto a biological system which is sensitized to it, it reacts to it. We have sent the coffein signal to the other end of the planet by classic telecommunications means, and there is still an effect produced, which can be measured on living tissue.

Another example: the signal coming from heparin (a component of the blood coagulation system) slows down this coagulation when it is transmitted via email between Chicago (USA) and Clamart, France. It would therefore be possible to transfer the action of drugs thanks to standard telecommunication techniques. 

(Go to video of Cambridge lecture)

All translations by Anne-Marie de Grazia