Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Gunther Siegmund Stent

        Science | American Biologists

Stent, Gunther Siegmund (1924-) is a leading German-born American molecular biologist. His work includes the study of the structure and replication of genetic material. Stent made fundamental contributions in molecular biology, neurobiology, and the history and philosophy of science.

Gunther Siegmund Stensch was born March 28, 1924, in Berlin, Germany. His mother, Elizabeth Karfunkelstein, came from a well-to-do family of glassware merchants. He attended a private Berlin school, but the increasing brutality of the Nazis forced the family to flee to England and the United States. Young Gunther and his sister changed their name to Stent, and they settled in Chicago in 1940 where he attended Hyde Park High School. He went to the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana where he earned his B.S. degree in 1945 and his Ph.D. degree in 1948 at only 24 years old.

After several teaching and research positions, in 1952 Stent settled into a long and distinguished career at the University of California, Berkeley. He played a key role in developing new departments and programs at the school. These included the Department of Virology in 1957 and the Department of Molecular Biology in 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 expanded Department of Molecular and Cell Biology.

Stent wrote several books, including the textbook Molecular Genetics (1970), which was considered a classic. He wrote an autobiography of his early life, Nazis, Women, and Molecular Biology: Memoirs of a Lucky Self-Hater, published in 1998.

Stent was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, American Philosophical Society, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as several foreign academies. He held honorary degrees from several universities.

In 1994, Stent became professor emeritus of neurobiology. He continued researching mechanisms that underlay embryonic development of the nervous system. The organism he studied was the leech.