Public Release: 

Sydney Brenner, Molecular Sciences Institute founder, awarded the Nobel Prize

Molecular Sciences Institute

OCTOBER 7, 2002, BERKELEY, CA - The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 2002 has been awarded to Molecular Sciences Institute founder, Dr. Sydney Brenner. Dr. Brenner shares the honor with former colleagues Dr. H. Robert Horvitz at MIT and Dr. John E. Sulston at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, England.

C. elegans

The prize to these three investigators was awarded for their work on the nematode (roundworm), Caenorhabditis elegans. A simple animal with very few cells, it has many of the functions found in higher organisms. It moves, it eats, it senses its environment, it ages. Study of these processes in the worm has revealed genes that control the same processes in humans.

Dr. Brenner articulated the case for development of C. elegans as a desirable object of study (or "model system") in 1963. By turning the worm into a workable experimental animal, and by evangelizing about the possible discoveries that researchers working on it might make, Sydney attracted and helped guide the formation of dozens of younger researchers who developed the field. Sulston and Horvitz were among the earliest and most accomplished of these researchers.

Sydney's contributions to science now span almost five decades. The work on worms, which the prize honors, is only one of his important achievements.

Additional Contributions to Biology

Beginning in the 1950s, Sydney contributed to the development of molecular biology, in particular with seminal contributions to the elucidation of the genetic code and the identification of mRNA. He also made great contributions to the understanding of antibody diversity. During the 1980s and 1990s, he was one of the people most responsible for the genome sequencing projects and the information that they produced.

It was in part the success of these sequencing projects, together with the molecular biological enterprise that he had helped to launch, that led him to promote systems biology and create the Molecular Sciences Institute. In this endeavor, scientists from many disciplines study how individual genes and proteins work together to create system outcomes. The work at the Molecular Sciences Institute is an ongoing tribute to another contribution by this remarkable scientist.

--Roger Brent, President October 7, 2001

Background on Sydney Brenner

Born in Germiston, South Africa on January 13, 1927, Sydney received his Bachelors and Masters from the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa (1947 and 1951, respectively). He went on to pursue D. Phil. Studies at Oxford University, England (1954). He is married to May Brenner and has 4 children.

Among Sydney's many honors are the 1974 Royal Medal and the 1991 Copley Medal of the Royal Society of London, two Albert Lasker Awards, (for Medical Research in 1974 and for Special Achievement in Medical Science in 2000), the 1991 Gairdner Foundation International Award, the 2002 March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology, and the 2002 Dan David Prize.

Sydney is a Fellow of King's College and the Royal Society. He has honorary memberships in numerous other societies and honorary degrees in over two dozen colleges and universities worldwide. He founded the Molecular Sciences Institute in 1996.

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About the Molecular Sciences Institute

The Molecular Sciences Institute is an independent, nonprofit research laboratory that combines genomic experimentation with computer modeling. The mission of MSI is to predict the behavior of cells and organisms in response to defined genetic and environmental changes. Progress toward this goal will significantly increase our understanding of biological systems and help catalyze radical changes in how diseases are understood and treated.

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