Campus alert status is yellow: For the latest campus alert status, news and resources, visit

Search Close Search
Search Close Search
Page Menu

Thoru Pederson, PhD, will be session chair and speaker at upcoming symposium honoring Sydney Brenner

Date Posted: Monday, November 15, 2021

Thoru PedersonThoru Pederson will be a session chair and speaker at a symposium in honor of the late Sydney Brenner, at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, March 23-26, 2022.

Celebrating the Life and Science of Sydney Brenner

Sydney's epiphanies, and those he gave others.

    There can be no doubt that his parents' neighbor teaching Sydney to read was a singularity (1).  Once so equipped, all the world stood before him and his uncommonly agile mind.  It appears he first got keen about the gene when working on meiosis in a local shrew- this his first paper (2).  He wrote about being fascinated by the chromosomes he saw and later, at Wits, realized from his biology classes that they were the seats and conveyors of inheritance.  After this postulated "Epiphany I", Sydney read papers of the Oxford physical chemist Cyril Hinshelwood, now moving into to biology.  Here, I again postulate an epiphany, whereby Sydney got the sense that phages (about which Hinshelwood was becoming keen) could only do what they do by using genes.  Epiphany II.   But then, perhaps the greatest epiphany occurred, when  Jack Dunitz came to visit Oxford from Caltech.  He was a protein structural biologist who had heard from Jerry Donahue what Crick and Watson were up to at the Cavendish.  He took Sydney to see the ring-stand bolted, wire model.  Epiphany III.  And Sydney got to meet these two characters.  Epiphany IV. 

   For someone of Sydney's brilliance, it comes as no surprise that he was an "epiphany induction machine".  Some may have thought he was severe, as he could sometimes be.  But he was in fact possessed by a generosity of outlook, nothing giving him greater pleasure than kindling a cerebral spark in others.  Our speakers in this session will share their memories of how his genius touched them- for epiphanies of their own.

1. Brenner, S. 2001. My Life in Science.  As Told to Lewis Wolpert.  Errol C. Friedberg and Eleanor Lawrence, eds. BioMed Central Ltd., London.

2. Pederson, T. 2019. The sui generis Sydney Brenner. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 116: 13155-13157.