Seymour Benzer

American geneticist

Seymour Benzer (October 15, 1921 – November 30, 2007) was an American physicist, molecular biologist and behavioral geneticist. He was awarded the Wolf Prize in Medicine in 1991 and the Crafoord Prize in 1993.

Seymour Benzer


  • The phenomenon of genetic recombination provides a powerful tool for separating mutations and discerning their positions along a chromosome. When it comes to very closely neighboring mutations, a difficulty arises, since the closer two mutations lie to one another, the smaller the probability that recombination between them will occur. Therefore, failure to observe recombinant types among a finite number of progeny ordinarily does not justify the conclusion that the two mutations are inseparable but can only place an upper limit on the linkage distance between them. A high degree of resolution requires the examination of very may progeny. This can best be achieved if there is available a selective feature for the detection of small proportions of recombination.
    • (15 June 1955)"Fine structure of a genetic region in bacteriophage". Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 41 (6): 344–354.
  • Complex as it is, much of the vast network of cellular functions has been successfully dissected, on a microscopic scale, by the use of mutants in which one element is altered at a time. A similar approach may be fruitful in tackling the complex structures and events underlying behavior, using behavioral mutations to indicate modifications of the nervous system. Drosophila offers the same advantages to such a study as it did to classical genetics, namely, large numbers and short generation time, to which now may be added an enormous store of accumulated knowledge concerning the organism. Containing about 105 neurons, the fly's nervous system is roughly halfway, on a logarithmic scale, between a single neuron and the human brain, and the fly is possessed of a rich repertoire of behavior.
  • (September 1967)"Behavioral mutants of Drosophila isolated by countercurrent distribution". Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 58 (3): 1112–1119.

Quotes about Benzer

  • The problems that Benzer and his students are solving are problems that scientists and philosophers from the beginning of recorded history have been unable to solve and also unable to ignore.
  • Key aspects of the bacteriophage work illustrate central features of Seymour's ability to design scientific investigations; these features played out again and again in his scientific career, to great success. One of these is the “simple assay.” Seymour was an enthusiast of developing and using simple assays to approach any biological question of interest. Why use a complicated, time-consuming assay if a simple one would address the question equally well? Using a simpler assay would give more time and opportunity to delve in greater depth into the specific scientific question, as well as allow more time and opportunity to address additional questions of great interest.
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