Four University of California Bioscientists:
Gunther Siegmund Stent (1924- )
Molecular Biology at Berkeley
Gunther S. Stent came to Berkeley as an Assistant Research Biochemist in 1952, at the invitation of Wendell M. Stanley, Director of the Virus Laboratory. During Stent's long tenure at the University, he played an instrumental role in shaping and developing new departments and programs, such as the Department of Virology (1957) and the Department of Molecular Biology (1964). From 1980 to 1986, he was Director of the Virus Laboratory and Chair of the Department of Molecular Biology, and from 1987 to 1992 founding Chair of the much expanded Department of Molecular and Cell Biology. He is currently Professor Emeritus of Neurobiology. Called "a vanishing breed of generalist," Stent has made fundamental contributions in three distinct areas: molecular biology, neurobiology, and the history and philosophy of science.
His textbook Molecular Genetics (1970, 1978) is regarded as a classic. He wrote over 100 articles on leech neuroembryology and neurophysiology. He also authored Phage and the Origins of Molecular Biology (with James D. Watson and John Cairns) (1966; 1992), and edited Function and Formation of Neural Systems (1977) and The Double Helix: a personal account of the discovery of the structure of DNA (with James D. Watson) (1980). His autobiography, Nazis, Women and Molecular Biology, was published in 1998.
A mentor and the Phage Lab
Stent to Berkeley
Stent played an instrumental role in shaping and developing new departments and programs, leading to the establishment of a Department of Molecular Biology on the Berkeley campus. He had a formative influence in establishing the Division of Neurobiology as well, and, over his long tenure, in the mentoring of the next generations of molecular biologists and neurobiologists.
A collaborator with James
Original summary of Watson's discovery of the structure of DNA, with annotations by biologist and colleague Nelville Symonds, that Symonds took to Stent in April 1953. "I picked him [Symonds] up at the Greyhound depot in downtown San Francisco, and as he was jumping out of the bus from L.A., he was waving said note and yelled, 'Gunther! They've got the structure of DNA!' "Leeches and a patented drug
In 1978, Stent was awarded a National Institutes of Health grant to develop a large-scale leech breeding program. He and his assistant, Roy T. Sawyer, faced the complexities of domesticating wild leeches. Sawyer once remarked, "The leech is quite temperamental. It's something akin to breeding orchids."
Sawyer later patented Orgelase, a
product made by Biopharm (which he founded in 1987) to cure blindness in
adults. In the fall of 1982, the spraying of herbicides around Gill Tract
in Albany, where the leech colony was housed, resulted in its almost complete