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Sydney Brenner

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Title: Sydney Brenner  
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Subject: List of Nobel laureates by university affiliation, John Sulston, Aaron Klug, List of Nobel laureates by country, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Collection: 1927 Births, Alumni of Exeter College, Oxford, Alumni of King's College, Cambridge, Biotechnologists, British Jews, Fellows of Exeter College, Oxford, Fellows of King's College, Cambridge, Fellows of the Academy of Medical Sciences, Fellows of the Royal Society, Jewish Scientists, King Faisal International Prize Recipients for Medicine, Lithuanian Jews, Living People, Members of the European Molecular Biology Organization, Members of the French Academy of Sciences, Members of the Order of the Companions of Honour, Members of the United States National Academy of Sciences, Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine, People from Germiston, Phage Workers, Recipients of the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, Recipients of the Copley Medal, Royal Medal Winners, South African Biologists, South African Geneticists, South African Jews, South African Nobel Laureates, South African People of Latvian-Jewish Descent, South African People of Lithuanian-Jewish Descent, The Scripps Research Institute, University of the Witwatersrand Alumni, White South African People
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Sydney Brenner

Sydney Brenner
Esther Lederberg, Gunther Stent, Sydney Brenner and Joshua Lederberg pictured in 1965
Born Sydney Brenner
(1927-01-13) 13 January 1927 [1]
Germiston, Gauteng, South Africa
Nationality South African
Fields Biology
Alma mater
Thesis The physical chemistry of cell processes: a study of bacteriophage resistance in Escherichia coli, strain B (1954)
Doctoral advisor Cyril Hinshelwood[4][5]
Doctoral students
Known for
Influences Fred Sanger[10]
Notable awards
Spouse May Brenner (née Covitz) (m. 1952)
Children 3
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Sydney Brenner, developmental biology,[8] and founded the Molecular Sciences Institute in Berkeley, California, U.S..[11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18]


  • Education and early life 1
  • Career and research 2
    • American plan and European plan 2.1
  • Awards and honours 3
  • Personal life 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6

Education and early life

Brenner was born in the town of Germiston, South Africa. His parents, Lena (Blacher) and Morris Brenner, were Jewish immigrants. His father, a cobbler, came to South Africa from Lithuania in 1910, and his mother from Riga, Latvia, in 1922.[19][20]

He was educated at Germiston High School[1] and the University of the Witwatersrand. Having completed the first three years of primary school in one year, it was noted then that he would be too young to qualify for the practice of medicine at the conclusion of his degree, and he was therefore allowed to complete a BMSc degree in Anatomy and Physiology. He stayed on for two more years doing an Honours degree and then an MSc degree, supporting himself by working part-time as a laboratory technician. During this time he was taught by Joel Mandelstam, Raymond Dart and Robert Broom. His master thesis was in the field of cytogenetics. In 1951 he received the MBBCh degree.[19]

Brenner received an 1851 Exhibition Scholarship from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 which enabled him to complete a Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil)[21] degree at the University of Oxford as a postgraduate student of Exeter College, Oxford supervised by Cyril Hinshelwood.[4]

Career and research

Following his PhD, Brenner did postdoctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley.[22] He spent the next 20 years at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology[23] in Cambridge; here, during the 1960s, he contributed to molecular biology, then an emerging field. In 1976 he joined the Salk Institute in California.[1]

Together with DNA, constructed by Francis Crick and James Watson; at the time he and the other scientists were working at the University of Oxford's Chemistry Department. All were impressed by the new DNA model, especially Brenner who subsequently worked with Crick in the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge and the newly opened Laboratory of Molecular Biology.

According to the late Beryl Oughton, later Rimmer, they all travelled together in two cars once Dorothy Hodgkin announced to them that they were off to Cambridge to see the model of the structure of DNA.[24]

Brenner made several seminal contributions to the emerging field of transfer RNA (tRNA)". The physical separation between the anticodon and the amino acid on a tRNA is the basis for the unidirectional flow of information in coded biological systems. This is commonly known as the central dogma of molecular biology i.e. that information flows from nucleic acid to protein and never from protein to nucleic acid. Following this adaptor insight, Brenner proposed the concept of a messenger RNA, based on correctly interpreting the work of Elliot "Ken" Volkin and Larry Astrachan.[25] Then, with Francis Crick, Leslie Barnett and Richard J. Watts-Tobin, Brenner genetically demonstrated the triplet nature of the code of protein translation through the Crick, Brenner, Barnett, Watts-Tobin et al. experiment of 1961,[26] which discovered frameshift mutations. This insight provided early elucidation of the nature of the genetic code. Leslie Barnett also helped set up Sydney Brenner's laboratory in Singapore, many years later.

Brenner, with George Pieczenik, created the first computer matrix analysis of nucleic acids using TRAC, which Brenner continues to use. Crick, Brenner, Klug and Pieczenik returned to their early work on deciphering the genetic code with a pioneering paper on the origin of protein synthesis, where constraints on mRNA and tRNA co-evolved allowing for a five-base interaction with a flip of the anticodon loop, and thereby creating a triplet code translating system without requiring a ribosome. This model requires a partially overlapping code. This is the only published paper in scientific history with three independent Nobel laureates collaborating as authors.

Brenner then focused on establishing

  • Soraya De Chadarevian; Designs For Life: Molecular Biology After World War II, CUP 2002, 444 pp; ISBN 0-521-57078-6
  • Francis Crick; What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery (Basic Books reprint edition, 1990) ISBN 0-465-09138-5
  • Georgina Ferry; 'Max Perutz and the Secret of Life', (Chatto & Windus 2007) 352pp, ISBN 978-0-7011-7695-2. For uncaptioned picture.
  • Robert Olby; Francis Crick: Hunter of Life's Secrets, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, ISBN 978-0-87969-798-3, published on 25 August 2009.
  • Max Perutz; What a Time I am Having: Selected Letters., CSHL Press 2008, 506pp ISBN 978-0-87969-864-5. For captioned picture.
  • Matt Ridley; Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code (Eminent Lives) first published in June 2006 in the US and then in the UK September 2006, by HarperCollins Publishers; 192 pp, ISBN 0-06-082333-X; in paperback, by Atlas Books (with index), ISBN 978-0-00-721331-3.
  • Lewis Wolpert; How We Live and Why We Die, Faber and Faber 2009, 240 pp; ISBN 978-0-571-23912-2

Further reading

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h BRENNER, Sydney.   (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b "Sydney Brenner PhD". Archived from the original on 2012-02-02. 
  3. ^ a b c "Janelia Farm: Sydney Brenner". Archived from the original on 2007-12-27. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Sydney Brenner Academic Tree". Archived from the original on 2012-09-08. 
  5. ^ Thompson, H. (1973). " 
  6. ^ Rubin, Gerald Mayer (1974). Studies on 5.8 S Ribosomal RNA. (PhD thesis). University of Cambridge.  
  7. ^ White, John Graham (1974). Computer Aided Reconstruction of the Nervous System of Caenorhabditis Elegans. (PhD thesis). University of Cambridge.  
  8. ^ a b Brenner, S. (1974). "The genetics of Caenorhabditis elegans". Genetics 77 (1): 71–94.  
  9. ^ Sulston, J.; Brenner, S. (1974). "The DNA of Caenorhabditis elegans". Genetics 77 (1): 95–104.  
  10. ^ Elizabeth Dzeng (2014). "How Academia and Publishing are Destroying Scientific Innovation: A Conversation with Sydney Brenner". Archived from the original on 2015-02-05. 
  11. ^ The Science Times Book of the Brain 1998. Edited by Nicholas Wade. The Lyons Press
  12. ^ Horace Freeland Judson The Eighth Day of Creation (1979), p. 10–11 Makers of the Revolution in Biology; Penguin Books 1995, first published by Jonathan Cape, 1977; ISBN 0-14-017800-7.
  13. ^ Brenner, S.; Elgar, G.; Sanford, R.; Macrae, A.; Venkatesh, B.; Aparicio, S. (1993). "Characterization of the pufferfish (Fugu) genome as a compact model vertebrate genome". Nature 366 (6452): 265–268.  
  14. ^ a b "Sydney Brenner: A Biography" by Errol Friedberg, pub. CSHL Press October 2010, ISBN 0-87969-947-7.
  15. ^ de Chadarevian, Soraya (2009). "Interview with Sydney Brenner". Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 40 (1): 65–71.  
  16. ^ Friedberg, Errol C. (2008). "Sydney Brenner". Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology 9 (1): 8–9.  
  17. ^ Sydney Brenner's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database, a service provided by Elsevier.
  18. ^ "Sydney Brenner publications".  
  19. ^ a b "Sydney Brenner - Autobiography". Retrieved 2008-09-28. 
  20. ^ "Brenner, Sydney (1927- ) World of Microbiology and Immunology". 
  21. ^ Brenner, Syndney (1954). The physical chemistry of cell processes : a study of bacteriophage resistance in Escherichia coli, strain B (DPhil thesis). University of Oxford.  
  22. ^ "Sydney Brenner: Senior Distinguished Fellow of the Crick-Jacobs Center". Salk Institute. 
  23. ^ John Finch; 'A Nobel Fellow On Every Floor', Medical Research Council 2008, 381 pp, ISBN 978-1-84046-940-0; this book is all about the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge.
  24. ^ Olby, Robert, Francis Crick: Hunter of Life's Secrets, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2009, Chapter 10, p. 181 ISBN 978-0-87969-798-3
  25. ^ Volkin, Elliot; Astrachan, L. (1956). "Phosphorus incorporation in Escherichia coli ribonucleic acid after infection with bacteriophage T2". Virology 2 (2): 149–161.  
  26. ^  
  27. ^ Sydney Brenner (8 December 2002). "Nobel Lecture: Nature's Gift to Science" (video & pdf). Retrieved 2008-09-28. 
  28. ^
  29. ^ "Library: Sydney Brenner's Loose Ends". 
  30. ^ Brenner, Sydney (1994). "Loose Ends". Current Biology 4 (1): 88.  
  31. ^ Loose ends from Current Biology (1997) ISBN 1 85922 325 7
  32. ^ A Life in Science (2001) ISBN 0-9540278-0-9
  33. ^ Sydney Brenner tells his life story at Web of Stories
  34. ^ "Sydney Brenner interviewed by Alan Macfarlane, 2007-08-23 (film)". 
  35. ^ Sydney Brenner's seminar: "What Genomes Can Tell Us About the Past"
  36. ^ Codebreakers: Makers of Modern Genetics: the Sydney Brenner papers
  37. ^ "2002 Nobel Prize". 
  38. ^ "Dan David Prize laureate 2002: Sydney Brenner". 
  39. ^ Sudhausi, Walter; Kiontke, Karin (25 April 2007). "Comparison of the cryptic nematode species Caenorhabditis brenneri sp. n" (pdf). Zootaxa (Magnolia Press) 1456: 45–62. Retrieved 2008-09-28. 
  40. ^ A*STAR Corporate Site - Awards - NSTM - Winner Citation for his distinguished and strategic contributions to the development of Singapore’s scientific capability and culture, particularly in the biomedical sciences sector.
  41. ^ "Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience". University of the Witwatersrand. 
  42. ^ "Loose Ends" : Collection of Loose Ends/False Starts columns by 'Uncle Syd.' from January 1994 to December 2000 (Current Biology, 1997) ISBN 1859223257
  43. ^ 'My Life in Science', with Lewis Wolpert, edited by Errol C. Friedberg and Eleanor Lawrence, BioMed Central 2001, 199pp ISBN 0-9540278-0-9


Brenner was married to May Brenner (née Covitz, subsequently Balkind)[1] from December 1952 until her death in January 2010; their children include Belinda, Carla, Stefan, and his stepson Jonathan Balkind from his wife's first marriage. He lives in Ely, Cambridgeshire.[42][43]

Personal life

Brenner has received numerous awards and honours including:

Awards and honours

According to the American plan, a brain cell's function is determined by the function of its neighbors after cell migration. If a cell migrates to an area in the visual cortex, the cell will adopt the function of its neighboring visual cortex cells, guided by chemical and axonal signals from these cells. If the same cell migrates to the auditory cortex, it would develop functions related to hearing, regardless of its genetic lineage.

The "American plan" and "European Plan" were proposed by Sydney Brenner as competing models for the way brain cells determine their neural functions. According to the European plan (sometimes referred to as the British plan), the function of cells is determined by its genetic lineage. Therefore, a mother cell with a specific function (for instance, interpreting visual information) would create daughter cells with similar functions.

American plan and European plan

Known for his penetrating scientific insight and acerbic wit, Brenner, for many years, authored a regular column ("Loose Ends") in the journal Current Biology.[29][30] This column was so popular that "Loose ends from Current Biology", a compilation, was published by Current Biology Ltd.[31] and is now a collectors' item. Brenner wrote "A Life In Science",[32] a paperback published by BioMed Central. Brenner is also noted for his generosity with ideas and the great number of students and colleagues his ideas have stimulated.[33][34][35][36]

Brenner founded the Molecular Sciences Institute in Berkeley, California in 1996.[3] As of 2015 he is associated with the Salk Institute, the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, the Singapore Biomedical Research Council, the Janelia Farm Research Campus, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.[3] In August 2005, Brenner was appointed president of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology. He is also on the Board of Scientific Governors at The Scripps Research Institute,[28] as well as being Professor of Genetics there.[2] A scientific biography of Brenner was written by Errol Friedberg in the US, for publication by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press in 2010.[14]


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