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Seymour Benzer/Sydney Brenner Lecture

The Seymour Benzer/Sydney Brenner Lectureship of the National Academy of Sciences was established in 2011 through a gift from Sydney Brenner in memory of his friend and colleague Seymour Benzer. Each year the Lecturer in the fields of genetics and neuroscience is selected from among speakers at a Kavli Frontiers of Science symposium. The lecture is presented annually as part of the Distinctive Voices series.

Seymour Benzer was born in 1921 to parents who had immigrated to the United States some 10 years earlier from a Jewish settlement near Warsaw. A true scientific romantic, he was a pioneer in two different fields of biology: the initial studies of the nature of the gene in the early days of molecular biology, and later the launching of a new field that applied mutant induction and other genetic approaches to the study of behavior.

Benzer’s work set two milestones - his early work in bacteriophage on fine structure of the gene defined a pivotal moment in the transition from classical to molecular genetics. His later work in the fruit fly launched an entirely new genetic strategy to tackle the complexity of behavior.

Benzer received numerous prestigious awards for his work including election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1961, election to the Royal Society, the National Medal of Science, the Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal of the Genetics Society of America, the Wolf Prize for Medicine, the Crafoord Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Mendel Award of the Genetical Society of Great Britain, the International Prize in Biology of Japan, and the NAS Award in the Neurosciences.

Benzer’s accomplishments are emblematic of an era that saw the problem of the physical basis of the gene solved and the tangled relationship between gene and behavior seriously addressed.

Seymour Benzer/Sydney Brenner Lectures

2023 — Lauren O’Connell, All Kinds of Families: Lessons on Social Behavior from the Cold Blooded

2022 — Valentino Gantz, Active Genetics Comes Alive: A Journey from Evo-Devo to CRISPR Gene Drives

2021 — Jessica Payne, The Science of Sleep and Stress: How they Affect Creativity, Emotion, and Memory

2020 — Felix Warneken, What Children Reveal About the Origins of Altruism and Fairness

2019 — Yaniv Erlich, Genetic privacy: friend or foe?

2018 — Nichole Lighthall, The Adaptable Aging Brain

2017 — Nels Elde, Microbial Control of Hosts

2016 — Hari Shroff, A Dynamic Atlas of Neurodevelopment for Understanding How the Living Connectome is Built

2015 — Atul Butte, Discovering New Drugs and Diagnostics: 300 Trillion Points of Open Data

2014 — R. Keith Slotkin, Molecular Arms Races

2013 — Drew Endy, Aliens, Computers, and the Bio-economy

2012 — R. Alison Adcock, If I Could Take Good Advice, I Wouldn't Need a Prescription

2011 — Amelia Eisch, Adult Neurogenesis

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