Memorial Talk for Dr. Sydney Brenner

Sydney Brenner in memory
Yoshiyuki Sakaki

It was our deep regret that Dr. Sydney Brenner, the Nobel Laureate of Physiology and Medicine 2002, has passed away this April. He was a great pioneer and leader of molecular biology. He had extraordinary sharp and deep insight into biological systems. He is well recognized through his great contribution to establish the so-called “central dogma” through the role of RNA in biological systems. He also chose a tiny worm, C. elegans, as an experimental organism to solve the critical question “how genes might specify complex structures found in higher organisms”, and successfully raised it up to a major experimental organism for modern molecular and developmental biology.

He was a regular member of our workshop, the International Workshop on Advanced Genomics (AGW) in its early stage (1999-2002), in which he provided us strong and impressive messages through his key note lectures. In the 2nd AGW (1999), he expressed a strong concern on a trend of “the more, the better” in biological sciences under which scientists tend to produce a large amount of data through high technologies without sufficient insight into the biological systems. Paradoxically he emphasized “the least, the best”. Also, in the 4th AGW (2002, April), he proposed the CellMap project as the future direction of biological sciences in the key note lecture. The idea of the CellMap was also presented later in his Nobel Lecture in December 2002.
In his later years, he made extraordinary contribution to establish new research hubs for the next generation of life sciences such as A*STAR in Singapore and the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) in Japan.
Three years ago, he kindly provided us a special video message in the international meeting on the Human Genome Archives at Kyoto. It was his last message to our Japanese community. (A part of his video message will be presented in my talk) Closing eyes, we can still see him talking passionately about the challenge for the future to young generations at the AGWs. Sydney is forever in our memory.
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