Passing of Dr Sydney Brenner, Nobel Laureate, renowned pioneer in molecular biology, A*STAR Senior Fellow

Passing of Dr Sydney Brenner- Nobel Laureate- renowned pioneer in molecular biology- A*STAR Senior Fellow

5 April 2019 - It is with deep regret that A*STAR announces the passing of Dr Sydney Brenner- Honorary Singapore Citizen- and A*STAR Senior Fellow- early this morning.

Dr Brenner was conferred the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002 for his pioneering work in the field of molecular biology. For over six decades- he had shaped modern biology and understanding of the genetic code.

His dedication and commitment to Singapore over the past three and a half decades have also left an indelible mark on our nation’s R&D journey. Dr Brenner challenged all of us to think ahead for the future- and spurred the establishment of Singapore’s first major research institute for science- the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB)- in 1985. This was a crucial stepping stone for Singapore’s push into the biomedical sciences. Through his support- the A*STAR Graduate Academy was established to help Singapore build its own pipeline of young scientists and engineers.

"A giant in the field of molecular biology- Sydney played a key role in shaping Singapore’s research and development landscape from its early years. His deep contributions in biomedical sciences have helped put Singapore on the global map. Today- Singapore is an emerging biomedical hub. Sydney will be remembered by the scientific community and beyond. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.” - Ms Chan Lai Fung- Chairman- A*STAR

“Dr Brenner’s contributions have shaped Singapore’s R&D journey- from biomedical research to talent development. He has been an inspiration to those he has worked closely with over the years- as well as those who have admired him from afar. No doubt- he will continue to be a source of inspiration for generations of scientists to come. Our thoughts are with Dr Brenner’s family." - Mr Frederick Chew- Chief Executive Officer- A*STAR

More information on Dr Brenner’s achievements can be found in Annex A.

Annex A – Dr Sydney Brenner’s Achievements

Dr Sydney Brenner was a renowned pioneer in molecular biology. His many achievements included deciphering how the triplet codon (genetic code) works- the discovery of messenger RNA- and the use of the worm- C. elegans- as a model system for human disease. This culminated in his being conferred the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002.

Dr Brenner’s dedication and commitment to Singapore has also contributed to policies and initiatives that have left an indelible mark on the nation’s R&D journey. Since his first visit in 1983- he had played a key role in building the biomedical sciences in Singapore. Dr Brenner challenged the nation to think ahead for the future- which led to the establishment of Singapore’s first major research institute for science- the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology or IMCB- in 1985. This proved to be a turning point and crucial stepping stone for the country’s foray into the biomedical sciences.

Over the past three and a half decades- Dr Brenner guided Singapore on its R&D journey- including his recent capacity as the Scientific Advisor to former Chairman A*STAR Lim Chuan Poh. For his contributions- Dr Brenner received many accolades- including the Distinguished Friends of Singapore in 2000- Honorary Citizen in 2003 and the National Science & Technology Medal in 2006.

Dr Brenner had a strong passion in ensuring that young people receive a good education in Science. Through his support- the A*STAR Graduate Academy was established to help Singapore build its own pipeline of young scientists and engineers- many of whom now contribute in our research institutes- universities- polytechnics- hospitals and local companies. This has helped raise the standing and reputation of Singapore as one of the leading global centres for science- research and education.

Last November- a book entitled 10-on-10: The Chronicles of Evolution was launched as tribute to Dr Brenner’s extraordinary vision and legacy. The book was written by 24 renowned scientists and is a compilation of a series of lectures on evolution- that was the brainchild Dr Brenner.


Annex B – The Singapore community on Dr Sydney Brenner
“Sydney came to Singapore in 1983 when we were looking for someone to advise us on our approach to science and research. He was fascinated by the vision of Founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and wanted to contribute to shape the future of science and technology in Singapore. In the last 12 years- as my scientific advisor- he has not only been a sounding board- but one who was prepared to speak his mind in the interest of the future of science in Singapore and A*STAR in particular. In this- he always looked out for the young scientists. His influence on science is global- and his imprint on molecular biology deep and profound. A couple of weeks ago- we had lunch together with a mutual friend from the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO)- and we discussed the future of molecular biology- EMBO- neuroscience- AI- A*STAR and the development of young scientific talent. Sydney had a premonition of what was coming as we discussed his preferred arrangements then for the first time. Little did I know it will happen so soon after that lunch. Sydney will always be remembered for his passion for science- sharp intellect and his “cheekiness”. He will be greatly missed.”
- Mr Lim Chuan Poh- Chairman of Singapore Food Agency and former Chairman of A*STAR

“Sydney was brilliant- inspiring and incredible fun. He achieved so much in so many fields- from the genetic code to the fugu fish. His generosity and encouragement of young scientists has created a wonderful legacy throughout the scientific world and especially here in Singapore. He will be greatly missed.”
- Professor Sir David Lane- Chief Scientist- A*STAR

“Sydney was a great mentor and inspired me in many ways- like he has inspired thousands around the world. I started working with him in Cambridge in 1991 on the fugu genome project. We eventually brought the project to Singapore where we completed the sequencing of the genome- and published a landmark paper on it in 2002. For close to 30 years- we worked together continuously- publishing more than 70 papers together. Sydney was always full of new ideas and his enthusiasm was contagious. He had a remarkable memory which lasted until his last days. He also had a great sense of humour. His last (cheeky) piece of advice for me was ‘Don’t get old’. I have lost a great mentor and a close friend- and the world has lost a great scientist.”
- Professor Byrappa Venkatesh- research director at A*STAR’s Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB)- Singapore’s first biomedical research institute that Dr Brenner helped to set up in 1985. Prof Venkatesh did his postdoctoral studies under Dr Brenner at the Medical Research Council (MRC) in Cambridge- UK. Dr Brenner and Professor Venkatesh also co-headed IMCB’s comparative genomics laboratory- which they founded in 1992.

“Sydney cared deeply about two things. One- that we continue to push the frontiers of human knowledge; and two- that we nurture young scientists so that they have room to grow and take the lead in pushing those frontiers. His boundless curiosity- dogged pursuit of knowledge and courage to speak with clarity on important issues with his characteristic wit are what we can aspire to. He will be dearly missed. Rest well- Sydney.”
- Dr Shawn Hoon- a research scientist at A*STAR’s Molecular Engineering Lab- who has known Dr Brenner since 2001 when Dr Hoon was a junior researcher at IMCB.