Stent, Gunther S. 1924–2008

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Stent, Gunther S. 1924–2008

(Günter Siegmund Stensch)


See index for CA sketch: Born March 28, 1924, in Berlin, Germany; died of a staphylococcus infection, June 12, 2008, in Haverford, PA. Molecular biologist, geneticist, educator, philosopher, and author. Stent spent most of his professional career at the University of California in Berkeley, where he taught molecular biology and related subjects from 1952 until at least 1992. He was a founding member of the department of virology and a chair of the department of molecular and cell biology. It was at Berkeley that Stent became involved in groundbreaking research on human genetics, which later paved the way for the scientists who unlocked the secrets of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. Stent's specialty was the bacteriophage, an extremely tiny virus that attacks bacteria. It turned out that the "phage," as it came to be known, was a simple enough organism that it would enable scientists to penetrate the complex double-helix structure of DNA in microorganisms, and eventually in humans. His textbook Molecular Biology of Bacterial Viruses (1963) became a valuable resource for the scientists who followed him. Stent pursued several lines of research over the years, blaming his restless intellect on a short attention span that, others countered, was actually the manifestation of his infinite curiosity. In the 1970s Stent became interested in neurobiology and the brain, specifically the learning process. Again, he turned to a simple organism for a model, establishing a huge colony of leeches, which he also bred and sold to other scientists to fund his own research. His work led to the development of therapeutic compounds, including the anti-coagulant hementin and the glaucoma treatment compound called orgelase. Toward the end of his life Stent plunged into philosophy and ethics. He published Paradoxes of Free Will (2002), which received the John F. Lewis Award of the American Philosophical Association. His other writings include The Coming of the Golden Age: A View of the End of Progress (1969), Morality as a Biological Phenomenon (1978), and Paradoxes of Progress (1978).



Hook, Ernest B., editor, Prematurity in Scientific Discovery: On Resistance and Neglect, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2002.

Stent, Gunther S., Nazis, Women, and Molecular Biology: Memoirs of a Lucky Self-Hater, Briones Books (Kensington, CA), 1998.


Chicago Tribune, June 22, 2008, sec. 4, p. 5.

Los Angeles Times, June 19, 2008, p. B6.

Washington Post, June 20, 2008, p. B7.