Sydney Brenner wasa born on January 13, 1927, in Germinston,
At only the age of 15, Brenner attended the University
of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg to study medicine and,
in 1942, began studying Physics, Chemistry, Botany and
Zoology. Brenner remained at Witwatersrand to obtain
an Honors degree and then an M.Sc. In 1951, he received
the degrees of MB BCh. In October 1952, Brenner arrived
in Oxford to complete a Ph.D. in the Physical Chemistry
Laboratory. After finishing the Ph.D., he returned to
South Africa to open his own research laboratory.
In 1956, he returned to England to join the Medical
Research Council Unit in Cambridge. He left Cambridge
in 1976 to join the Salk Institute where he pursued
an entirely new career in neuroscience. In 1977, he
was appointed Director of the MRC Laboratory. In 1995,
he founded The Molecular Sciences Institute with a gift
from the Philip Morris Company. Brenner retired from
the Institute in 2000 and, in 2001, was appointed a
Distinguished Professor in the Salk Institute in La
Jolla where he rejoined Francis Crick.
He made seminal contributions to the emerging field
of molecular biology in the 1960s, notably in the elucidation
of the triplet code of protein translation through the
Crick, Brenner et al. experiment of 1961, which discovered
frameshift mutations. This observation provided insight
tothe genetic code.
Brenner then turned his sights on establishing Caenorhabditis
elegans as a model organism for the investigation of
animal development including neural development. Brenner
chose this 1 millimeter-long soil roundworm mainly because
it is simple, is easy to grow in bulk populations, and
turned out to be quite convenient for genetic analysis.
The title of his Nobel lecture on December 2002, "Nature's
Gift to Science," is an homage to this modest nematode.
Brenner believed choosing the right organism to study
was as important as addressing the right problem.
He shared the 2002 Nobel
Prize in Physiology or Medicine with H.
Robert Horvitz and John Sulston.
Brenner founded the Molecular
Sciences Institute and is currently associated
with the Salk Institute and the Institute
of Molecular and Cell Biology. Known for
his penetrating scientific insight and
acerbic wit, Brenner for many years penned
a regular column ("Loose
Ends") in the journal Current Biology.
The following press release from the Royal Swedish
Academy of Sciences describes Brenner's work:
The human body consists of hundreds of cell types,
all originating from the fertilized egg. During the
embryonic and foetal periods, the number of cells increase
dramatically. The cells mature and become specialized
to form the various tissues and organs of the body.
Large numbers of cells are formed also in the adult
body. In parallel with this generation of new cells,
cell death is a normal process, both in the foetus and
adult, to maintain the appropriate number of cells in
the tissues. This delicate, controlled elimination of
cells is called programmed cell death.
This year's Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine
have made seminal discoveries concerning the genetic
regulation of organ development and programmed cell
death. By establishing and using the nematode Caenorhabditis
elegans as an experimental model system, possibilities
were opened to follow cell division and differentiation
from the fertilized egg to the adult. The Laureates
have identified key genes regulating organ development
and programmed cell death and have shown that corresponding
genes exist in higher species, including man. The discoveries
are important for medical research and have shed new
light on the pathogenesis of many diseases.
Sydney Brenner (b 1927),
Berkeley, CA, USA, established C. elegans
as a novel experimental model organism.
This provided a unique opportunity to link
genetic analysis to cell division, differentiation
and organ development – and to follow
these processes under the microscope. Brenner's
discoveries, carried out in Cambridge,
UK, laid the foundation for this year's