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Molecular Biologist Sydney Brenner Who Helped Unravel The Genetic Code Passes Away At 92

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Nobel laureate Sydney Brenner, whose work on the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans led to important discoveries in developmental biology, has passed away.

The Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR), a public sector research agency based in Singapore, confirmed his death on Friday, April 5. The scientist reportedly died peacefully in his sleep. He was 92 years old.

Dr. Brenner's Important Contributions To Science

The South Africa-born biologist made major contributions to the study of DNA. He helped understand the role that the molecule RNA plays in carrying out the "code of life" to the ribosome protein factories in cells. He also found the sequences of three DNA bases code for the amino acid that form proteins.

Dr. Brenner worked with other giants in the field such as Francis Crick, François Jacob, Linus Pauling, and James Watson.

However, his work with C. elegans is arguably what defined his career. He identified the microscopic transparent ringworm as the ideal animal model and, to this day, it is still used inside laboratories around the world.

His early research on C. elegans and his subsequent discoveries made him win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002 alongside his colleagues Robert Waterson and John Sulston, who passed away last year.

Dr. Brenner served as the director of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology at the University of Cambridge from 1979 to 1986. He was also involved in building Singapore's biomedical research capacity.

"He was Yoda to a generation of young scientists," shared Philip Yeo, former chief of A*Star and long-time collaborator of Dr. Brenner. "His mind was still perfect, but his body failed."

Aside from the Nobel, the scientist received the prestigious Lasker Award in medical science in 1971.

Simple Beginnings

Dr. Brenner was born on Jan. 13, 1927 in a small town in South Africa. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe; his father was from Lithuania, while his mother was from Latvia.

He famously taught himself to read at an early age using newspapers that lined their dinner table. When he was 15 years old, he received a scholarship to medical school. He later earned his Ph.D. at Oxford University before he moved to the University of Cambridge.

Dr. Brenner's wife died in 2010. He is survived by his three children Belinda, Carla, and Stefan.

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