Pathology chair closes book on Nobel laureate, renowned molecular biologist
By Kristen Holland Shear / Week of Jan. 8-14, 2011
Dr. Errol Friedberg, chairman of pathology at UT Southwestern, has written the authorized biography of Dr. Sydney Brenner, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist whose name is synonymous with the history of molecular biology.
“I spent the past three years traveling around the world interviewing about 40 to 50 people, including spending many hours with Sydney Brenner,” Dr. Friedberg said. “The result is the biography of one of the most fascinating people in science.”
At Dr. Friedberg’s invitation, Dr. Brenner spoke on Jan. 11 in the Tom and Lula Gooch Auditorium on the topic, “Mapping the Human Genome.” The recipient of the 2002 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine was introduced by Dr. Friedberg, who said that everyone on campus should be familiar with the esteemed scientist.
Dr. Brenner, explaining how analysis and study of genome sequences, an organism’s hereditary information and mutation, helps map an organism’s genetic evolution, said, “I’m trying to reconstruct the past – to go back as far as 700 million years ago for the evidence is in our genomes.”
He received his medical and basic-science education in his native South Africa, as well as at Oxford University. It was when Dr. Brenner briefly returned to South Africa to teach physiology at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg that a young medical student named Errol Friedberg first encountered the brilliant scientist.
Dr. Brenner’s contributions to science, and molecular biology in particular, include some of the earliest insights into human genetics and the genetics of the research organism Caenorhabditis elegans; for which he received the Nobel Prize. Dr. Friedberg’s extensively researched biography describes, for example, Dr. Brenner’s interactions with James Watson and Francis Crick, who discovered the structure of DNA, as well as his encounters and collaborations with other prominent scientists, including his membership in the exclusive RNA Tie Club.
In the biography, Dr. Friedberg chronicles not only Dr. Brenner’s scientific achievements, but also his contributions to Britain’s involvement in the Human Genome Project and his influence on the emerging biomedical research enterprise in Singapore and Japan. The author also notes Dr. Brenner’s mischievous side, as his sense of humor walks hand in hand with his genius.
Sydney Brenner: A Biography is published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.
Dr. Friedberg holds the Senator Betty and Dr. Andy Andujar Distinguished Chairmanship of Pathology.