Sydney Brenner

Sydney Brenner

Sydney Brenner

A towering figure in genetics and molecular biology, Dr. Sydney Brenner was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002 for his original insight that a tiny, soil-dwelling roundworm, Caenorhabditis elegans, could serve as a major model organism for genetics, neurobiology and developmental biology research.

Born in the small town of Germiston, South Africa, a child of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe whose shoe-repairman father never learned to read or write, Dr. Brenner educated himself in many subjects by using a public library established through the Carnegie Endowment. His first solo scientific paper, published when he was 19, reflected keen interest in what he would later call cell physiology, a field in which he would excel.

Moving to England from South Africa, Dr. Brenner earned a doctorate in chemistry from Oxford University and embarked on a lifelong involvement in cutting-edge genetics research in association with Francis Crick, James Watson and other pioneers in the study of DNA and RNA. He also has played a major role in the global development of the biomedical research community, by guiding Singapore toward its focus on biomedical research; founding and directing the Molecular Sciences Institute in Berkeley, Calif.; serving as founding president of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology; and holding positions on the faculties of the Scripps Research Institute, the Salk Institute and the Janelia Farm Research Campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Honorary Degree Citation

A student once asked you about the ethical standards to be adopted by life scientists. You immediately thought of two prescriptions: the first, common to all scientists, is to tell the truth. The second is to stand up for all humanity. You have done both, with a unique combination of wit and courage, for more than 50 years. From your first look at James Watson and Francis Crick’s model of DNA in 1953, you were fired by curiosity about how the molecule was transformed into an organism. Ever since, your research and insights have helped clarify the workings of the genetic code. Honored with the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002 for your creation of a powerful system for studying molecular development, you have made many other major breakthroughs, including establishing the existence of messenger RNA. Born in South Africa, the son of an immigrant shoe repairman who could neither read nor write, you have risen to eminence at campuses and research institutes throughout the global scientific community. Along the way, you have become known and loved for your great sense of humor and willingness to mentor young scientists.

For your keen insights, your decades-long dedication and your contributions to human health, Brandeis University is proud to present you with the degree of Doctor of Science, Honoris Causa.