Seymour Benzer, Pioneering Scientist in Neurogenetics and Developmental Biology, Wins International Neuroscience Prize
Peter Gruber Foundation Honors Caltech Researcher for Vision and Creativity in a Long, Remarkable, and Continuing Career
St. Thomas, U.S.V.I., November, 2004 – Legendary biologist Seymour Benzer, whose half century-long career has transformed our understanding of the brain and profoundly influenced generations of scientists, was selected by an international panel of experts in neuroscience to receive the inaugural 2004 Neuroscience Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation.
Each year the Foundation will present a gold medal and a $200,000 unrestricted cash award to an outstanding scientist who has contributed to fundamental advances in the field of neuroscience. This year’s prize was presented on October 23 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego, California.
Born in New York City in 1921, Seymour Benzer received his B.S. in physics from Brooklyn College in 1942 and his Ph.D. in physics from Purdue University in 1947. After beginning his career as a solid-state physicist, he switched to biology in 1949. He was on the faculty of Purdue from 1945 until 1967 when he accepted a professorship at the California Institute of Technology where he is still an active Emeritus professor today.
In the early 1960s, after having made several major contributions to the understanding of gene structure and the genetic code, Professor Benzer switched fields again and inaugurated and developed the new and immensely important field of neurogenetics. His deceptively simple approach was based on the premise, confirmed by his subsequent work, that the molecular underpinning of neural function and behavior could be dissected by using ingenious genetic screens to isolate behavioral mutants one gene at a time. Using the fruit fly, Drosophila, he altered one gene after the next and showed that a single gene mutation can give rise to a wide variety of behavioral alterations, including aberrations in courtship, in circadian rhythm, and in memory and learning. These studies have revolutionized the field of behavioral genetics and have shown that through the genetics of the humble fruit fly the mysteries of how the human brain develops, functions, and becomes sick can be unraveled.
The official citation reads: “The Neuroscience Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation is hereby proudly presented to Seymour Benzer, Ph.D., James Griffin Boswell Professor of Neuroscience, California Institute of Technology, who initiated genetic studies of behavioral neuroscience and led the way to discoveries of evolutionarily conserved mechanisms underlying circadian rhythm and neural induction. In addition, his ingenious use of the fruit fly as a model for studying learning and memory, neural degeneration and aging continues to pioneer the genetic approaches now generally recognized as an effective way to identify the cause and treatment of diseases of the human brain.”
Peter Gruber, founder of the foundation that bears his name, said, “Neuroscience is man’s last and most recent interior frontier. These new developments will help us to better understand who we are as a species and how knowledge about the brain can help humankind. Seymour Benzer has made a number of the most innovative and pioneering contributions to the science, and we are proud to honor him and the science in which he is playing such an important role, opening new doors for so many others.”
The Foundation’s Neuroscience Advisory Board, a panel of experts in the field, selects the annual winner of the prize. Current members are: Huda Akil, Ph.D, Mental Health Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan; Dr. Fred H.Gage, Salk Institute, La Jolla, California; Dr. Tomas G.M. Hokfelt, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden; Lily Yeh Jan, Ph.D, University of California, San Francisco, California; Mu-Ming Poo, Ph.D, University of California, Berkeley, California; Dr. Solomon H. Snyder, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland; and Dr. Torsten N. Wiesel, President Emeritus, Rockefeller University, New York, New York.
The Peter Gruber Foundation
The Peter Gruber Foundation was founded in 1993 and established a record of charitable giving principally in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where it is located. In recent years the Foundation has expanded its focus to a series of international awards recognizing discoveries and achievements that produce fundamental shifts in human knowledge and culture. In addition to the Neuroscience Prize, the Foundation presents awards in the fields of Cosmology, Genetics, Justice, and Women’s Rights. Further information about the Peter Gruber Foundation and its awards is available from www.petergruberfoundation.org.
Peter Gruber Foundation to Give Annual International Prize in Neuroscience
ST. THOMAS, U.S.V.I., March 30, 2004 – The Peter Gruber Foundation has established an annual prize in neuroscience to begin this year. An international panel of experts in the field will choose the first recipient, and the Foundation will present the inaugural award-a gold medal and $200,000–in the fall of 2004.
The Neuroscience Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation will honor men and women from anywhere in the world who have done the most distinguished work in the field of the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nervous system. The award will be presented without respect to nationality, race, gender, ethnicity, or religious creed.
Members of the independent advisory board who will review nominations and choose recipients are: Huda Akil, Ph.D, Mental Health Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan; Dr. Fred H.Gage, Salk Institute, La Jolla, California; Dr. Tomas G.M. Hokfelt, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden; Lily Yeh Jan, Ph.D, University of California, San Francisco, California; Mu-Ming Poo, Ph.D, University of California, Berkeley, California; Dr. Solomon H. Snyder, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland; and Dr. Torsten N. Wiesel, President Emeritus, Rockefeller University, New York, New York.
Peter Gruber, founder of the foundation that bears his name, said, “Neuroscience is now the largest area of biomedical research, and new breakthroughs in the field are likely to dominate the 21st century. A major Neuroscience Prize will salute outstanding achievements and encourage further developments in a discipline with infinite potential.”
The Peter Gruber Foundation is dedicated to encouraging and rewarding excellence in the sciences and in human rights. Its other annual international prizes are in the fields of cosmology, genetics, justice, and women’s rights. It also has established a record of charitable giving, principally in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where it is located.