Senior Distinguished Fellow of the Crick-Jacobs Center
Sydney Brenner, Senior Distinguished Fellow of the Crick-Jacobs Center, is one of the past century's leading pioneers in genetics and molecular biology. Most recently, Brenner has been studying vertebrate gene and genome evolution. His work in this area has resulted in new ways of analyzing gene sequences, which has developed a new understanding of the evolution of vertebrates.
Among his many notable discoveries, Brenner established the existence of messenger RNA and demonstrated how the order of amino acids in proteins is determined. He also conducted pioneering work with the roundworm, a model organism now widely used to study genetics. His research with Caenorhabditis elegans garnered insights into aging, nerve cell function and controlled cell death, or apoptosis.
One of the world's pioneers in genetics and molecular biology, Sydney Brenner has devoted his career to conducting groundbreaking basic research and promoting science around the world.
Born in Germiston, South Africa, Brenner earned degrees in medicine and science in 1947 from Johannesburg's University of Witwatersrand before moving to England, where he received a doctorate in chemistry from Oxford University in 1954 and began taking part in leading-edge research into DNA, molecular biology, and developmental genetics. By 1956, he was sharing an office in Cambridge with the late Francis Crick, an alliance that lasted 20 years. Along with Crick, Brenner proposed that a single amino acid was coded by three nucleotides, a triplet, of RNA. He further demonstrated that the triplet combination of uracil, adenine, and guanine—the "nonsense," or "stop," codon (a term he coined) —signifies the end of a translation process. In the early 1960s, Brenner co-discovered the existence of messenger RNA and demonstrated that the nucleotide sequence of mRNA determines the order of amino acids in proteins. This work led to his first Lasker Award in Basic Medical Research; he later received a second Lasker Award in honor of his outstanding lifetime achievements.
It was Brenner's pioneering research with Caenorhabditis elegans, however, that led to his Nobel Prize. Beginning in 1965, he began to lay the groundwork to make C. elegans, a small, transparent nematode, a major model organism for genetics, neurobiology, and developmental biology research. As a direct result of his original vision, this tiny worm became the first animal for which the complete cell lineage and entire neuronal wiring were known. Today more than 1,000 investigators are working on C. elegans, and Brenner's work was further honored when a closely related nematode was named Caenorhabditis brenneri.
Beyond his own research, Brenner has been a driving force in advancing scientific research worldwide. He was instrumental in guiding Singapore toward biomedical research and founded the Molecular Sciences Institute in Berkeley, CA, in 1996, serving as its president and director of science. He is also founding president of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology. Brenner, who previously had served as a scholarin- residence at The Scripps Research Institute, has been a member of the Salk Institute faculty since 2000.