Nobel prize-winning biologist whose research into a tiny nematode worm led to critical insights into human disease

When James Watson and Francis Crick first completed their model of the structure of DNA in April 1953, a group of Oxford scientists drove to the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge to see it. Among them was Sydney Brenner, a short, heavy-browed South African doctoral student in chemistry. The visit marked a watershed in his scientific life. “I just knew that this was the beginning of molecular biology,” he wrote later. “This was it … the curtain had been lifted and everything was now clear as to what to do.”

Brenner, who has died aged 92, went on to be a driving force in the molecular biology revolution of the late 20th century. His self-chosen mission to explore the genetics, development and behaviour of a tiny nematode worm led to critical insights into human disease. In 2002 that work brought him a share in the Nobel prize for physiology that many felt was long overdue.

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