Brenner, Sydney

Brenner, Sydney, 1927–2019, British molecular biologist, Ph.D. Oxford, 1954. He was director of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England (1979–86), and director of the MRC Molecular Genetics Unit (1986–91) before founding (1996) the Molecular Sciences Institute, Berkeley, Calif. In 2000 he became a distinguished research professor at the Salk Institute, La Jolla, Calif. For many years he also played a leading role in developing molecular biology research in Europe and Singapore. In 2002, with H. Robert Horvitz and John E. Sulston, Brenner received the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology for discoveries relating to the genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death. Brenner is credited with laying the foundation for the work by establishing the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans as a model organism for genetic studies. The .04-in.-long (1-mm) worm has a short life cycle, allowing researchers to learn substantial information about organ development and cell death in a relatively short period of time, and it is transparent, enabling cell division to be observed directly under a microscope. Brenner demonstrated that a chemical compound could induce gene mutations in the nematode and that different mutations could be tied to specific genes. Earlier, Brenner had shown that triplets of nucleotides were the basis of DNA coding and with Francis Crick and others had decoded how amino acids were produced from DNA; at the same time, he also participated in discovery of messenger RNA, the means by which the information in DNA is conveyed to the cell organelles that produce proteins.

See his autobiography (2001).

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