Assembly Series welcomes Brenner, Gomes Oct. 14-15

The Assembly Series is bringing two speakers on consecutive days to Graham Chapel.

Nobel Prize-winning biologist Sydney Brenner will talk at 4 p.m. Oct. 14, and the chaplain of Harvard University, the Rev. Peter J. Gomes, will speak at 11 a.m. the following day.

Sydney Brenner
Sydney Brenner

Brenner’s talk, “Humanity’s Genes,” will be the annual Arthur Holly Compton Memorial Lecture.

Brenner has made numerous contributions to the fields of genetics and biology. In 2002, he won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his research on the nematode roundworm C. elegans.

His work paved the way toward the first genetic mapping of a multicellular organism and was a significant factor in the development of the Human Genome Project. His achievements with C. elegans are now considered a research standard worldwide for developmental biology.

Born and raised in South Africa, Brenner was educated at Oxford and Cambridge universities in the 1950s. From 1979-1986, he served as director of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge University.

He is now a distinguished professor at the Salk Institute of Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif. He also serves as president of the Molecular Sciences Institute in La Jolla and Berkeley, Calif., a private institute he founded in 1996 to advance interdisciplinary research in fields such as genomics, genetics and computational biology.

Brenner has been a part of many landmark scientific discoveries over the years. He was among the first to view Watson and Crick’s model for the DNA double-helix structure.

Brenner and his colleagues discovered messenger RNA, which can be translated into proteins. Working with Crick, he also proposed that a single amino acid is coded by a triplet of RNA.

His work in genetics and at the molecular level has led to major gains in understanding a range of afflictions, including cancer, AIDS, strokes and neurodegenerative diseases.

Brenner’s lecture will discuss some of the questions raised by the completion of the Human Genome Project. He will talk about both the benefits and the fears brought on by recent breakthroughs in genetic research, and his belief that the brain is mightier than the genome.

Peter J. Gomes
Peter J. Gomes

Gomes’ talk will be based on his most recent book, The Good Life: Truths That Last in Times of Need, and is sponsored by the Campus Y.

Gomes has served in The Memorial Church at Harvard for more than 30 years and has been the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and the Pusey Minister of The Memorial Church for nearly as long.

Ordained to the American Baptist Ministry in 1968, Gomes is widely regarded as one of America’s most distinguished preachers. In 1999, he was included in Talk magazine’s feature on “The Best Talkers in America: Fifty Big Mouths We Hope Will Never Shut Up.”

Gomes was chosen to participate in the presidential inaugurations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

The Good Life, published in 2002, addresses the challenges and importance of living responsibly. Gomes debunks the idea that today’s college students are spoiled, materialistic and morally complacent and believes they have the moral curiosity to search for the truths.

He offers advice on how to focus on what he considers the important things in life, emphasizing the need for distinguishing between the “plausible lies” that our society defines as “the good life” and the “fantastic truths” that he believes can bring real and lasting happiness.

Gomes has written a number of other books, including the best-selling The Good Book: Reading the Bible With Mind and Heart, and Sermons: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living. Gomes has also published several volumes of sermons, as well as articles and essays.

Gomes has received numerous honors, including many honorary degrees and being named an honorary fellow of Emmanuel College at the University of Cambridge, where the Gomes Lectureship has been established.

In 2001, he received Harvard’s Phi Beta Kappa Award. He also holds the position of trustee of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

He graduated from Bates College in 1965 and Harvard Divinity School in 1968.

All Assembly Series lectures are free and open to the public. For more information, call 935-4620 or go online to