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Molecular biologist Gunther Stent dies

Gunther Siegmund Stent, whose work on bacteriophages helped establish the foundations of molecular biology, died on June 12 of pneumonia. "He was a very remarkable guy. It's hard for any one person to get a full appreciation of what he's done because his interests were so broad," said David Weisblat a molecular and cell biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and a postdoc with Stent in the late 1970s. Over the course of his life, Stent studied molecular biology, neurobiology, dev

By | June 19, 2008

Gunther Siegmund Stent, whose work on bacteriophages helped establish the foundations of molecular biology, died on June 12 of pneumonia. "He was a very remarkable guy. It's hard for any one person to get a full appreciation of what he's done because his interests were so broad," said David Weisblat a molecular and cell biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and a postdoc with Stent in the late 1970s. Over the course of his life, Stent studied molecular biology, neurobiology, developmental biology, as well as the philosophy of science, consciousness. He was always driven towards the "next frontier," in science, said Weisblat. Stent was greatly influenced by Max Delbruck, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1969 for his work demonstrating that linkurl:bacterial resistance;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/54522/ is caused by random mutation rather than adaptive change. Stent completed his PhD in physical chemistry at the University of Illinois in 1948, and after reading about Delbruck's research, did a postdoc with him at Caltech. He moved to University of California, Berkeley, in 1952 as an assistant research biochemist and became a full professor in 1959. He was part of the "phage group," a close-knit group of scientists that met to linkurl:discuss DNA;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/36882/ and early genetics during the 1950s and 1960s. The group revolved around Delbruck and included James Watson and Francis Crick. Stent applied radioactive phosphorus to a bacteriophage to study how the radioactive decay affected the viral DNA. "Through careful measurements of this decay and the decrease in viral infectivity, Gunther provided important data validating the Watson and Crick structure of DNA," Michael Botchan, co-chairman of the department of molecular and cell biology at the UC Berkeley told __The New York Times.__ "He wasn't the most successful of that molecular biology group by a long shot," said Weisblat, but "He loved the argument and the stimulation it generated, and the conversation." His "love of ideas and fascination with probing things" was the reason why "all of these hot shots enjoyed his company," Weisblat told __The Scientist.__ He wrote his now famous book, __Molecular Biology of Bacterial Viruses,__ in 1963. The updated version entitled __Molecular Genetics: An Introductory Narrative__ sold more than 25,000 copies, in was translated into four languages, according to the linkurl:__New York Times.__;http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/16/health/research/16stent.html?_r=1&sq=gunther%20stent&st=nyt&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&scp=1&adxnnlx=1213880743-fF1FWPC7ue9sOOkgjkYhvA In the early 1970s, Stent began studying the nervous system following a stint working with neurobiologist John Nichols at Harvard. "One of his most-cited linkurl:papers;http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4352227?ordinalpos=71&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum was a proposed model for how learning takes place at the synapses of nerve cells," Weisblat told linkurl:__UC Berkeley News.__;http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2008/06/17_stentobit.shtml He later turned his focus to neural development, attempting to define how activity of individual neurons affected behavior. Throughout his life as an experimental scientist, Stent "had an overriding passion for philosophy" and analysis of the human impulses, said Weisblat. Having survived Nazi Germany in Berlin, Stent self-published a book in 1998 entitled, "Nazis, Women and Molecular Biology: Memoirs of a Lucky Self-Hater." "He was remarkably self critical," said Weisblat. Stent is survived by his second wife, Mary Ulam, his son Stefan Stent and who stepsons Alexander and Joseph Ulam. His first wife, Inga Loftsdottir Stent, died in 1993.
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Comments

Avatar of: Philip Miller

Philip Miller

Posts: 1

June 20, 2008

One of my favorite professors at UC Berkeley in 1968. A passionate and engaging personality. So much of the emerging techology of the day is taken for granted today. Sequencing that would take months is automated in hours today.\n\nHe wrote: \n \nThe Coming of the Golden Age. A View of the End of Progress \n\nSuch an age of hope and discovery
Avatar of: MEL WINESTOCK

MEL WINESTOCK

Posts: 3

June 20, 2008

I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Gunther Stent.\n\nI was priviledged to attend his lectures and seek his advice while a graduate student at Berkeley. I shall always remember his brilliant wit and enquiring mind and gentle kindness towards those of us not so well mentally endowed.
Avatar of: Vinod Nikhra

Vinod Nikhra

Posts: 48

June 21, 2008

I have read some of his work. I think he was a good author and a great thinker apart from being a great scientist.
Avatar of: Barry Barclay

Barry Barclay

Posts: 1

June 23, 2008

I had the pleasure of meeting Dr Stent while a post-doc in Robert Hayne's lab in Toronto. Bob and Gunther were friends from their teaching days at Berkeley. Stent was a powerful intellect, but as others have said here, I recall that he was gentle with his genius, especially with young people like me very junior to himself. He was an important part of what was to become known as the "Golden Age of Molecular Biology" that formed much of the conceptual framework of the discipline. His passing is a great loss to science.
Avatar of: Russell Poland

Russell Poland

Posts: 2

June 24, 2008

I am saddened to hear of Dr. Stent's passing. I was an undergraduate in his molecular biology course at U.C. Berkeley in the mid to late 60's. Although I missed many classes during those interesting and turbulent years, his class was by far the most interesting of all my course work, and he clearly was a wonderful teacher. I remember to this day a combined "transformation, transduction and re-arrangement" question on the final exam; The correct answer for the resulting sequence of genes spelled "Merry X-mas". The periodic giggling in the room indicated that some of us got it right, while others looked around somewhat perplexed! He clearly will be missed.

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Mettler Toledo
BD Biosciences
BD Biosciences