1990Advanced TechnologyBiotechnology and Medical Technology
Sydney Brenner photo

Sydney Brenner

  • U.K. / January 13, 1927
  • Molecular Biologist
  • Director, MRC Molecular Genetics Unit

Pioneering Contribution to Molecular Biology through Demonstration of Messenger RNA and Establishment of C. Elegans as an Experimental System for Developmental Biology

A molecular biologist who made a pioneering contribution to the development of molecular biology. During the early days of molecular biology, he contributed greatly to the establishment of the genetic code including the discovery of termination codons, and also proved elegantly the existence of messenger RNA. These studies, together with numerous other works by him, led to the establishment of modern gene technology. He also developed an experimental system for a nematode, and demonstrated that the timing and location of cell division is completely programmed genetically.
*This field then was Field of Biotechnologies (Molecular Genetics, Cellular and Developmental Biology, Cancer Research, Application of Biological Function, etc.).


Brief Biography

Born in Germiston, South Africa
Graduated from University of Witwatersrand, South Africa
Received Ph.D. from Oxford University, England
Member of Scientific Staff Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, England
Director, MRC Molecular Genetics Unit, Cambridge, England

Selected Awards and Honors

Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS)
Gregor Mendel Medal, German Academy of Science
Albert Lasker Award for Medical Research, New York
Royal Medal, Royal Society of London
Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences
Krebs Medal, Federation of European Biochemical Societies
Croonian Medal, Royal Society of London

Major Works


An unstable intermediate carrying information from genes to ribosomes for protein synthesis.Nature. 190, 1961(with Jacob, F. et al.)


General nature of the genetic code for proteins Nature. 192, 1961 (with Crick, F.H.C. et al.)


Genetic code: the nonsense triplets for chain termination and their suppression. Nature. 206, 1965 (with Stretton, Q.O.W. et al.)


The DNA of Caenorhabditis elegans. Genetics. 77, 1974 (with Sulston, J.E.)


The neural circuit for touch sensitivity in C. elegans. J.Neurosci. 5, 1985 (with Chalfie, M. et al.)


Pioneering Contribution to Molecular Biology through Demonstration of Messenger RNA and Establishment of C. Elegans as an Experimental System for Developmental Biology

Starting around 1960, during the formative years of molecular biology as a science, Dr. Brenner actively carried out extensive studies in various research fields. He is especially noted for proving the existence of messenger RNA, which is the intermediate substance in the transmission process of genetic information from DNA to the protein structure. Furthermore, he did research on the relationship between amino acids and genetic codes, and proposed that a single amino acid’s genetic information is transcribed by three nucleotides (i.e. a triplet) of DNA or RNA. He also demonstrated that the triplet combination uracil, adenine, and guanine, is a code, the so-called nonsense codon, to signify the end of a translation process. His name is known worldwide because his research constituted the most important foundation of current molecular biology and gene technology.

Since then, as a model for investigating genetic information and its development and differentiation in multicellular organisms, Dr. Brenner has developed a simple experimental system for C. elegans, which is composed of very few structural cells and which is easy to use for genetic and biological analysis. Dr. Brenner played a guiding role in these research areas. Recently, he demonstrated that the timing and location of cell division is completely determined by genetics. He has also succeeded in cloning most portions of DNA for C. elegans.

Stimulated by Dr. Brenner’s pioneering studies, many laboratories worldwide are currently working together to develop new active studies in the fields of anatomy, heredity, genetics, and behavior for C. elegans.

Through his great knowledge and incessant efforts, Dr. Brenner created a new field of research in molecular biology. His contributions to the establishment of today’s gene technology and the important role he played as the world leader in this technology are so significant that Dr. Brenner is a most suitable laureate for the 1990 Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology.


Abstract of the Lecture

Adventures with Genes

Genetics is the study of the plan of organism; we try to find out how the information specifying an organism is passed on from generation to generation and how the genes work to construct the new organism. This is the central science of biology, because this is what makes biological systems different from everything else.

I have had many gene adventures but none so exhilarating as my early work on bacteriophage. It covers a period written about by many people, but Dr. Inamori encourages us to give more than a plain account of the science and this I have tried to do.

It is a history, and a very selective one, because it it mostly about my scientific work and life. There is much of the past, some of the present and even a little of the future.

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Genetic Information

October 25, 1990 13:00-17:30
Kyoto International Conference Center
Syozo Osawa Member, the Kyoto Prize Screening Committee in Advanced Technology; Professor, School of Science, Nagoya University Yosiro Shimura Professor, Faculty of Science, Kyoto University


Greetings Kazuo Inamori
President, The Inamori Foundation
Opening Remarks Yoshiro Shimura
Chairman, the Kyoto Prize Screening Committee in Advanced Technology;
Dean, Faculty of Medicine, Kyoto University
Introduction of the Laureate and Lecturers Syozo Osawa
Lecture Sydney Brenner
Laureate in Advanced Technology
"Gene Evolution"
Lecture Syozo Ozawa
"Evolutionary Changes in the Generic Code"
Lecture Yoshiro Shimura
"Generic Control of Sec Determination in Drosophila"
Lecture Hironori Ishizaki
Professor, School of Science, Nagoya University
"Prothoracicotropic Hormone, an Insect Brain Peptide that Controls Development"
Lecture Kiyotaka Okada
Associate Professor, National Institute for Basic Biology, Okazaki National Research Institutes
"Organ Development in Higher Plants"
Closing Remarks Yoshiro Shimura