Clinical OMICS

MAY-JUN 2019

Healthcare magazine for research scientists, labs, pathologists, hospitals, cancer centers, physicians and biopharma companies providing news articles, expert interviews and videos about molecular diagnostics in precision medicine

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44 Clinical OMICs May/June 2019 www.clinicalomics.com I was deeply disappointed by the obituaries that I read in the mainstream and scientific press concerning Sydney Brenner, the Nobel laureate who died in April at the age of 92 in Singapore. They all completely missed the point. Con- sequently, I feel compelled to pen a short eulogy to one of the greatest scientists that ever lived, and with whom I had the honor to interact over many years. Whilst important, Brenner 's pioneering use of the nem- atode, Caenorhabditis elegans, to understand biological functions—and for which he ultimately won the Nobel Prize—was far from his most important scientific contribu- tion. As recounted in the book The Eighth Day of Creation,by Horace Freeland Judson, Sydney, working with Francis Crick and others, made fundamental contributions to the development of the central dogma, postulating, and then demonstrating, the existence of messenger RNA (mRNA), and by identifying the triplet nature of the genetic code including the identification of stop codons. The concept of mRNA, transfer RNA, and the translation of mRNA into protein is as important now as it was then—details of these processes are actually still being worked out. As recombinant DNA methods became established in the mid-70s, the safety issues of these new techniques were far from clear. In contrast to the current CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing debate, the principal scientists in the recombi- nant DNA business, including Sydney, met at the historic Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA (organized by Paul Berg, February 1975) to debate the issues. As a result, a framework of risk for different kinds of cloning experiments was established. Sydney's clarity of think- ing was fundamental in establishing this risk assessment and implementing it in the U.K. (Some of the Category 4 experiments, for example, were done at the Microbiologi- cal Research Establishment at Porton Down as they had the necessary isolation laboratories.) I met Sydney on several occasions in the early 1980s when I worked at Celltech and later Glaxo in the U.K. Conversa- tions with Sydney and Peter Goodfellow persuaded me that I should go west to San Diego and set up R&D at Sequana (one of the first genomics biotech companies), which I did in late 1993. Sydney was based at the nearby Salk Institute and had an apartment in La Jolla by the ocean. I spent many hours talking over dinner with him about the development of genomics as a scientific endeavor. A lasting impression, on reflection, was that I'd never met anyone with a brain database as big as Sydney's and an operating system that allowed almost instant recall of data and the interpretation of it. He also had a wicked sense of "Sydney's ingenuity was also evident in developing the concepts of multiplex parallel sequencing. His role in this should not be underestimated." By Tim Harris Sydney Brenner A Fundamental Man SERGII IAREMENKO / Science Photo Library / Getty Images

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