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Distinguished Fellow

Steven Benner

Education

  • BS in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry. Yale University (1976)
  • MS in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry. Yale University (1976)
  • PhD in Chemistry. Harvard University (1979)

Research summary

The Benner group has:
  1. Initiated synthetic biology as a field. The Benner group was the first to synthesize a gene for an enzyme, and used organic synthesis to prepare the first artificial genetic systems. These systems have been used to direct the synthesis of artificial proteins having unnatural amino acids, in FDA-approved clinical assays for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C that improves the medical care of over 400,000 patients annually, and to support the first artificial chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution.
  2. Invented dynamic combinatorial chemistry, combining ideas from molecular evolution, enzymology, analytical chemistry, and organic chemistry to generate a strategy to discover small molecule therapeutic leads. A German company, Alantos, is today using this technology to develop drug leads.
  3. Established paleomolecular biology, where researchers resurrect ancestral proteins from extinct organisms for study in the laboratory, The strategy allows scientists to connect chemistry to function in biology, which is defined by an organism's fitness in a complex and changing environment.
  4. Helped found evolutionary bioinformatics, in 1991, launched one of the first web-based bioinformatics servers with Gaston Gonnet, generated the first naturally organized protein sequence databases, and helped develop the MasterCatalog that generated ca. $4 million in sales. This work also supported the first exhaustive matching of a modern protein sequence database, the first convincing tools to predict structure in proteins from sequence data, strategies to detect distant homologs using structure prediction, and "post-genomic" tools to detect changing protein function.

Awards

  • National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow
  • Junior Fellowship, Harvard Society of Fellows
  • Dreyfus Award for Young Faculty, 1982
  • Searle Scholar, 1984-86
  • Sloan Foundation Fellow, 1984-86
  • Anniversary Prize, Federation of European Biochemical Societies, 1993
  • Nolan Summer Award, 1998
  • Arun Gunthikonda Memorial Award, 1998
  • Townes R. Leigh Commemorative Professor, 1999
  • B. R. Baker Award, 2001
  • Sigma Xi Senior Faculty Award 2005
  • Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (Biology) 2015
  • Honoris Causa, University of Croatia, Romania 2016
  • Fellow of the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life (ISSOL) 2017

Recent Publications

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Fluorinated oil-surfactant mixtures with the density of water: Artificial cells for synthetic biology
Roberto Laos, Steven Benner
PLOS One 17 (1) , Public Library of Science (2022) https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0252361
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Catalytic Synthesis of Polyribonucleic Acid on Prebiotic Rock Glasses
Craig A. Jerome, Hyo-Joong Kim, Stephen J. Mojzsis, Steven A. Benner, and Elisa Biondi
Astrobiology (2022) http://doi.org/10.1089/ast.2022.0027
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Agnostic Life Finder (ALF) for Large-Scale Screening of Martian Life During In Situ Refueling
Spacek, J. & Benner, S.A.
Astrobiology (2022) 22, 8, DOI:10.1089/ast.2021.0070
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Thermodynamic Parameters and Design Considerations for Expanded Alphabet PZ and GZ Base Pairs in DNA
Kahn, J. D., Miffin, T., Sharp, K. K., Wang, X., Hoshika, S., Sun, H., Benner, S. A., Mathews, D. H.
Biophys. J. , AP Cell Press (2021) 120(3):220a, DOI:10.1016/j.bpj.2020.11.1475
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The role of thrifty genes in the origin of alcoholism: A narrative review and hypothesis
Carn, D., Lanaspa, M. A., Benner, S. A., Andrews, P., Dudley, R., Tolan, D. R., Johnson, R. J.
Alcohol.: Clin. Exp. Res. , Wiley-Blackwell (2021) 10.1111/acer.14655
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Ultra-rapid detection of SARS-CoV-2 in public workspace environments
Yaren, O., McCarter, J., Phadke, N., Bradley, K. M., Overton, B., Yang, Z., Ranade, S., Patil, K., Bangale, R., Benner, S. A.
PLOS One , Public Library of Science (2021) 10.1371/journal.pone.0240524, DOI:10.1101/2020.09.29.20204131
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Abiotic Synthesis of Nucleoside 5'-Triphosphates with Nickel Borate and Cyclic Trimetaphosphate (CTMP)
Kim, H.J.., Benner, S.A.
Astrobiology (2021) 21(3), DOI:10.1089/ast.2020.2264
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The Limits to Organic Life in the Solar System: From Cold Titan to Hot Venus
Benner, S. A., & Spacek, J.
LPI Contributions , LPI (2021) 2629, 4003.
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When Did Life Likely Emerge on Earth in an RNA-First Process?
S. A. Benner, E. A. Bell, E. Biondi, R. Brasser, T. Carell, H.-J. Kim, S. J. Mojzsis, A. Omran, M. A. Pasek, D. Trail
ChemSystemsChem 2 , Chemistry Europe (2020) e1900035
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Building better polymerases: Engineering the replication of expanded genetic alphabets
Ouaray, Z., Benner, S. A., Georgiadis, M. M., Richards, N. G. J.
J. Biol. Chem. (2020) 295(50):17046-17059, DOI:10.1074/jbc.REV120.013745
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