Seymour Benzer’s approach to science

Seymour Benzer, one of the giants of twentieth-century biology, died on 30 November 2007. Benzer, who maintained an active laboratory until the time of his death, was a unique figure who made seminal contributions to physics, molecular biology and behavioural genetics. See: Obituary: Seymour Benzer (1921-2007) by David Anderson with Sydney Brenner (Nature 451, 139; 2008).

“Benzer’s style was to pioneer a new area, and then to move on to something new once the hordes had rushed in. As he said: “I like to take things that are fuzzy, and turn them into something tangible.” …… a simple argument, he deduced that the minimum unit of mutation is probably a single base pair of DNA. This idea was fundamental to connecting the structure of DNA to the reality of genetics. And, together with Fred Sanger’s discovery that proteins are composed of precise sequences of amino acids, this work laid the foundations of the new science of molecular biology.

Most scientists would have been content to continue in this exciting field, but Benzer became characteristically restless. For him, once it became obvious how a problem could be solved, it was time to move on to another."


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