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Profile: The Lord of the Flies

Hal Harris's picture
Fri, 04/02/1999 - 01:00 -- Hal Harris

Seymour Benzer sounds like a biologist to whom I would enjoy talking about science. He came to his present research interests after a good start to a career in physics, and after avoiding biology courses at Brooklyn College because they were too much like natural history and with too little deductive science. Seventy seven when this article was written and still an active researcher, Benzer can look back on a career in which he has made giant strides through an aggessively reductionist approach to the connections between the genes of Drosophila (fruit flies) and their behavior. His results are enlivening the debate between those who are willing to consider the likelihood that human behavior is largely determined by genetics (such as E. O. Wilson) and those (such as Richard Lewontin) who are skeptical of such connections. Benzer's recent discovery of "Methuselah", a mutant fly that can live up to a hundred days (about forty days longer than normal) has brought this "unsung hero" of molecular biology to public attention.

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Jonathan Weiner

Publication Date: 
Sunday, April 4, 1999
Price: 
$4.50
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