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Great Scientists

Sydney Brenner

1927 -

Portrait: Sydney Brenner

Sydney Brenner, born 1927, is a South African molecular biologist. He is a leading figure in biology, having won the Nobel Prize, and authored or co-authored numerous seminal papers on fields related to genome and protein sequencing.

  • Nationality
  • South African

  • Subject
  • Biology, molecular science

  • Fields
  • DNA sequencing

  • Distinctions
  • Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, 2002 (shared with H. Robert Horvitz and John Sulston)

  • Publications
  • Autobiography, A Life in Science

    Regular column, Loose Ends, for the journal Current Biology

    Thesis: The physical chemistry of cell processes

    Seminal paper on the origin of protein synthesis, dealing with mRNA and tRNA and the anticodon loop, and permitting a triplet code translation system with no required ribosome. This paper is unique in being the only scientific paper ever written by three independent Nobel laureates in collaboration.

  • Theories
  • Proof that overlapping genetic coding sequences were impossible. Proposed the concept of transfer RNA (tRNA)
    Deciphered the genetic code (paper on the origin of protein synthesis).
    Two Models for the way brain cells determine neural functions (known as the American and British Plans).

  • Experiments/Discoveries
  • Triplet nature of code of protein translation (Crick, Brenner, Barnett, Watts-Tobin et al. experiment, 1961).
    Computer matrix analysis of nucleic acids using TRAC

Sydney Brenner is well-known as a personality and wit. He wrote a regular column, Loose Ends, for the journal Current Biology, which gained him a following.

He wrote an autobiography, A Life in Science.

His contributions to science have extended beyond Britain, to California, where in 1996 he founded the Molecular Sciences Institute, Berkeley, as well as similar institutions and research campuses in Singapore and Japan.