Brenner made several seminal contributions to the emerging field of molecular biology in the 1960s. These include the identification of messenger RNA, and in the elucidation of the triplet nature of the code of protein translation through the Crick, Brenner et al. experiment of 1961, which discovered frameshift mutations. This insight provided early elucidation of the nature of the genetic code. Brenner then focused on establishing Caenorhabditis elegans as a model organism for the investigation of animal development including neural development. Brenner chose this 1 millimeter-long soil roundworm mainly because it is simple, is easy to grow in bulk populations, and turned out be quite convenient for genetic analysis. The title of his Nobel lecture on December 2002, "Nature's Gift to Science" is a homage to this modest nematode, and he considered that having chosen the right organism turned out to be as important as having addressed the right problems to work on. For the latter work he shared the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with H. Robert Horvitz and John Sulston. In recognition of his pioneering role in starting what is now a global research community that work on C. elegans, another closely related nematode was given the scientific name Caenorhabditis brenneri.
Brenner founded the Molecular Sciences Institute and is currently associated with the Salk Institute, the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, and the Janelia Farm Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He is also on the Board of Scientific Governors at The Scripps Research Institute. Known for his penetrating scientific insight and acerbic wit, Brenner for many years penned a regular column ("Loose Ends") in the journal Current Biology; he wrote "A Life In Science" (ISBN 0-9540278-0-9) paperback published by Biomed Central Ltd. in 2001.
Brenner was awarded the National Science and Technology Medal by A*STAR, Singapore on 11 October 2006 for his distinguished and strategic contributions to the development of Singapore’s scientific capability and culture, particularly in the biomedical sciences sector.
According to the European plan (sometimes referred to as the British plan), the function of cells is determined by its genetic lineage. Therefore, a mother cell with a specific function (for instance, interpreting visual information) would create daughter cells with similar functions.
According to the American plan, a brain cell's function is determined by the function of its neighbors after cell migration. If a cell migrates to an area in the visual cortex, the cell will adopt the function of its neighboring visual cortex cells, guided by chemical and axonal signals from these cells. If the same cell migrates to the auditory cortex, it would develop functions related to hearing, regardless of its genetic lineage.
Science & Nature: LEWIS WOLPERT COLUMN ; `Sydney Brenner Saw the Problem of the Genetic Code, and How Biology Could Be Reduced to the DNA Chain'
Oct 21, 2002; The Nobel Prize in Medicine has just been awarded to Sydney Brenner, a gesture which delights many of us, but which is long...