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Brenner Accolades Misattributed

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Brenner Accolades Misattributed

Return to Sender

In “The Missing Lynx” (April 2001), Aaron Sender, in extolling “the brains behind Lynx’s patented inventions” describes Sydney Brenner as “known best for discovering (italics mine) mRNA and its triplet code of translation, as well as for introducing C. elegans as a model organism.” The latter attribute is correct, the first is not.

Elliot Volkin and Larry Astrachan, in the Biology Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, were the first to discover mRNA which they termed DNA-like RNA. It had the same base composition as the DNA of the bacteriophage infecting E. coli and turned over rapidly. Sydney Brenner coined the term mRNA for DNA-like RNA which had the properties of the unstable intermediate X postulated by François Jacob and Jacques Monod in their model of expression of the lactose operon. DNA-like RNA became mRNA! The triplet code for translation was implicated by several biologists and George Gamow, known best for his contributions to nuclear physics and cosmology! Experimental proof of the triplet codes for translation came from the studies of Marshall Nirenberg and Har Gobind Khorana, for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Biology/Medicine in 1968. The Nobel citation reads in part: “for their interpretation of the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis.”

Salil K. Niyogi, Senior Staff Scientist Emeritus, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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