The Albert Lasker Award in Basic Medical Research for 1971 is presented to Dr. Seymour Benzer, Dr. Sydney Brenner, and Dr. Charles Yanofsky for their brilliant individual contributions to molecular genetics—the science of the chemistry of heredity.
Drs. Benzer, Brenner and Yanofsky—working individually with genes in viruses and bacteria—founded the field of fine-structure genetics. They showed that there are hundreds of different sites within the gene where mutation takes place. Their studies threw light on the nature of the genetic code, and established that the genetic process is a continuous, uninterrupted chain. They also defined and demonstrated the gene as a biological and physical entity. This has enhanced our understanding of many normal (and abnormal) events, which makes possible an understanding of the molecular bases of many diseases and their causes.
Because of the work of these scientists, it is now known that the smallest mutable portion of a gene is a single nucleotide of the DNA chain. In addition, a structural change of a single nucleotide unit can produce a corresponding change in the amino acid sequence of a protein molecule. This change in the length of the protein is coded by the gene in which the mutation occurs.
We also know that the nucleotides within a gene are lined up in a single continuous chain. This chain corresponds to the order of the amino acids in the protein which is coded by the gene. Thus, the gene is the blueprint for making the protein.
Consequently, the understanding of human genetic diseases—such as hemophilia, sickle cell anemia, and other hereditary diseases of the blood—has been clarified by the discoveries of these three scientists. As a result, the basis for rational clinical treatment of these diseases has been improved.
For these brilliant and ingenious contributions, the 1971 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award is given.