Sydney Brenner Bio

Sydney Brenner CH FRS FMedSci MAE (13 January 1927 – 5 April 2019) was a South African biologist and a 2002 Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine laureate, shared with Bob Horvitz and John Sulston. Brenner made significant contributions to work on the genetic code, and other areas of molecular biology while working in the Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England. He established the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans as a model organism for the investigation of developmental biology, and founded the Molecular Sciences Institute in Berkeley, California, United States.

Education and early life

Brenner was born in the town of Germiston, Gauteng, South Africa. His parents, Leah (née Blecher) and Morris Brenner, were Jewishimmigrants. His father, a cobbler, came to South Africa from Lithuania in 1910, and his mother from Riga, Latvia, in 1922. He has one sibling, a sister, Phyllis.

He was educated at Germiston High School and the University of the Witwatersrand. Having joined university at the age of 15, it was noted during his second year that he would be too young to qualify for the practice of medicine at the conclusion of his six-year medical course, and he was therefore allowed to complete a Bachelor of Science degree in Anatomy and Physiology. He stayed on for two more years doing an Honours degree and then an MSc degree, supporting himself by working part-time as a laboratory technician. During this time he was taught by Joel Mandelstam, Raymond Dart and Robert Broom. His master thesis was in the field of cytogenetics. In 1951 he received the Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBCh) degree.

Brenner received an 1851 Exhibition Scholarship from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 which enabled him to complete a Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil) degree at the University of Oxford as a postgraduate student of Exeter College, Oxford supervised by Cyril Hinshelwood.

Personal life

Brenner was married to May Brenner (née Covitz, subsequently Balkind from December 1952 until her death in January 2010; their children include Belinda, Carla, Stefan, and his stepson Jonathan Balkind from his wife’s first marriage to Marcus Balkind. He lived in Ely, Cambridgeshire. He was an atheist.

Brenner died on April 5, 2019, in Singapore at the age of 92.

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