Seymour Benzer PhD

Recipient of the Canada Gairdner International Award, 2004
"For pioneering discoveries that both founded and greatly advanced an entire field of neurogenetics, thereby transforming our understanding of the brain and its mechanisms."

California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA


Dr. Benzer's work in the 1950's, which was recognized by a Gairdner Award in 1964, achieved the fine-structure mapping of a gene, thereby laying the foundations of molecular genetics. His later studies, recognized by the 2004 Gairdner Award, tackled the problem of the inheritance of behavior, using gene mutations to dissect the underlying events in the nervous system of the fruit fly, Drosophila. His work led to the discovery of specific genes that participate in various behavioral phenomena, including genes such as per, which controls the biological clock, dunce, which is needed for learning, and other genes, shown to be important for sexual courtship, vision, or prevention of neurodegeneration. At age 82, Benzer continues to do pioneering research that focuses on the problem of aging, with Drosophila as a model organism.

Dr. Seymour Benzer is the Boswell Professor of Neuroscience, Emeritus (Active) at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), in Pasadena, California. Benzer grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and majored in physics at Brooklyn College. Graduating in 1942, he continued his studies at the Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana, where he participated in the war effort to develop semiconductor devices for detecting radar microwaves. On receiving his PhD in 1947, he was appointed to the faculty at Purdue, but, inspired by reading Schrodinger's book "What is Life", soon requested leave of absence to study genes, spending two years with Max Delbruck at Caltech and a year at the Pasteur Institute with Jacob, Monod, and Lwoff. Benzer moved his laboratory from Purdue University to Caltech in 1965. He received The Lasker Award in 1971, International Academy of Sciences in 1975 and 2001 and the Wolf Prize for Medicine in 1991.