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Monday, December 03, 2007

Seymour Benzer (1921 - 2007)

Seymour Benzer died last Friday. In the 1950's and 1960's Benzer was a prominent member of the 'phage group founded by Max Delbrück and Salvador Luria [The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1969.].

Benzer was best known for his detailed mapping of the rII locus in bacteriophage. Benzer was able to resolve mutants that were likely to be only a single nucleotide apart. His work on mapping deletions led directly to the conclusion that the genetic codon should consist of three nucleotides. In honor of Seymour Benzer, John Dennehy has selected his 1955 paper as this week's citation classic [Benzer, S. (1955)].

You can read about Benzer's famous experiments in the article he wrote for Phage and the Origins of Molecular Biology: Adventures in the rII region.

Later on in his career, Benzer worked with Drosophila melanogaster studying behavioral mutations, including some that affect the circadian rhythm. Since this is Coturnix's field, he has posted his own tribute to Benzer [In Memoriam: Seymour Benzer].

Other notable tributes:

Carl Zimmer [Farewell, Seymour Benzer].

PZ Myers [We've lost a great one: Seymour Benzer].

It's sad to note that most younger scientists, and almost all undergraduates, have never heard of Seymour Benzer. Mostly this is sad because it makes me realize how old I am!

[Photo Credit: The photo shows Francis Crick (left) speaking to Seymour Benzer in 1964 (The Francis Crick Papers)]


Anonymous said...

I first read "Adventures in the rII region" and the original papers describing the work for an undergraduate seminar class in the early 70s -- it was my introduction to the wonderful world of phage and all one could do with them. I was sad to hear of his passing.

Anonymous said...

Reading Benzer's rII papers was a formative experience for me as for so many (another of my heros, Alex Varshavsky, also named the toplogy/topography papers as his all-time favorites). All of us in science stand on the shoulders of giants; it is a measure of Benzer's great stature that even Crick stood on his shoulders. It's too bad that his contributions were never acknowledged in Stockholm.