Sydney Brenner, who received two Lasker Awards during his storied career, has passed away at age 92. In 1971, Brenner was recognized with a Basic Research Award for his pioneering investigations in molecular biology, and some three decades later he was honored with a Special Achievement Award for introducing the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans as a system for tracing the birth and death of every cell in a living animal and for his rational voice in the debate on recombinant DNA. Lasker Award Jury Chair Joseph Goldstein summed up Brenner’s early accomplishments as follows:
Sydney emerged as one of the handful of heroes who presided over the golden age of molecular biology. With [Francis] Crick, Sydney deduced the triplet nature of the genetic code and coined the term codon. On his own, he worked out the fundamental nature of mutations, showing that single base changes in DNA lead either to altered proteins or to the absence of proteins — the so-called frameshift, suppressor, and nonsense mutations. With François Jacob, he conceived the idea of messenger RNA, the transcript that conveys the genetic information in DNA to the protein synthesizing machinery of the cell, and he went on to perform ingenious experiments to prove its existence. The discovery of messenger RNA is one of the most thrilling pieces of detective work in the history of biology…
In 2009, Brenner delivered the innaugural Lasker Lecture to an overflow audience at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Deploying his trenchant wit, Brenner discussed the experience of reading the human genome as one would open a book, as a means to unveil the detailed, intricate paths of evolution.
Sydney Brenner: Reading the Human Genome — Genes and Brains