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2004 Gruber Neuroscience The Science

Seymour Benzer, pioneer scientist, inaugurated and developed the new field of neurogenetics.

Seymour Benzer began his career as a physicist and then switched to molecular biology making landmark contributions to the fine structure of the gene.

In the 1960’s, Benzer began to apply molecular biologic tools to unravel questions in the neurosciences. He used a simple animal, the fruit fly Drosophila, to link individual genes to their behavioral phenotypes.

He quickly generated classic Drosophila mutants that led to major advances in neurobiology. One of the first was the “period” mutant. Subsequent cloning revealed that it helps manage the biological clock, which has increased our understanding of biological rhythms.

Benzer also developed “dunce” as a mutant deficient in learning due to an abnormality in the enzyme phosphodiesterase. Subsequent research has reinforced the importance of phosphodiesterase in learning and behavior, leading to the development of potential therapeutic agents for cognitive enhancement.

And Benzer’s identification of “sevenless” enhanced the understanding of nervous system development. His work on the “shaker” mutant led to the identification of the potassium channel responsible for important clinical abnormalities.

By Solomon Snyder