Sydney Brenner on Cold Spring Harbor Symposia Today
  Sydney Brenner     Biography    
Recorded: 10 Jun 2002

Well, it’s too big! It’s too big, you see. I went—you know the most interesting meeting I went to was not a Cold Spring Harbor Symposium. It was a meeting which was organized by Ahmad Bukhari on transposable elements. That started as a small—the proposal was for a small meeting of maybe twenty people should collect there for a few days. By the time the meeting was held it was more than one hundred people, there’s a very big book on this, and it was also a milestone in the sense that up to that, this whole field was very confusing, but you began to see that there was a coherent thing between all of these things. And I think that’s a very—that was another very important meeting, because that actually put [Barbara] McClintock on the map, basically. Because you see, nobody could understand what McClintock was writing about.

I worked extremely hard, both when I was worked at Cold Spring Harbor in the ‘54 and also again in the ‘60s to try and discover what was this all about. It didn’t make sense. And François Jacob tried also to assimilate it. And of course, I think, what she [McClintock] called controlling elements were not controlling elements, as everything was completely different. But I think that once—I mean I think it was quite interesting because, I think it was a very mystical and mysterious field. The people who cleared it up were people who worked with phage. People like [Peter] Starlinger and so on who began to understand all these insertion sequences—what they were, and they really—the whole idea that there were DNA hopping around. And that I think clarified what the—what up to that point, they were inexplicable.

Sydney Brenner is a pioneer in the field of molecular biology. He was born in South Africa in 1927 and received his Ph.D. from Oxford University in 1954. From 1979 to 1986 he served as Director of the Medical Research Council Laboratory for Molecular Biology and from 1986 to 1991, as the Director of the Medical Research Council Laboratory Molecular Genetics Unit, both in Cambridge, England.

Since 1996 he has been the President and Director of Science at the Molecular Sciences Institute in La Jolla and Berkeley. Brenner was honored as a Distinguished Research Professor at the Salk Institute in La Jolla in 2000.

In 2002 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine with Dr. John Sulston and Dr. Robert Horvitz “for their discoveries concerning ‘genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death’” studying the organism C. elegans.