BERKELEY, Calif. - Gunther Stent, who helped pioneer the field of molecular biology as one of the first scientists to confirm the structure of DNA, has died. He was 84.
Dr. Stent died June 12 of pneumonia at his home in Haverford, Pa., according to the University of California, Berkeley, where he served on the faculty for nearly 40 years.
The push to unlock the mysteries of human genetics in the years after World War II was led by the "phage group," a small collection of scientists that included Dr. Stent, James Watson and Francis Crick.
Watson and Crick discovered the double-helix structure of DNA in 1953. As a biochemist at UC Berkeley, Dr. Stent performed experiments with bacterial viruses that confirmed Watson and Crick's results a year later.
"Gunther was part of the intellectual glue that kept this small band of pioneers together," said Michael Botchan, cochairman of UC Berkeley's department of molecular and cell biology, which Dr. Stent helped found in 1987.
Dr. Stent also led the formation of the campus' department of virology in 1957 and the department of molecular biology in 1964.
His 1963 book "Molecular Biology of Bacterial Viruses" became a key text in the study of genetics.
In later years, Dr. Stent's interests turned to neurobiology and the relationship between the brain and mental experience. His research on the nervous systems of leeches helped establish the leech as a signature organism in the study of the connections between neural physiology and behavior.
Dr. Stent was born Gunter Siegmund Stensch in Berlin in 1924. He escaped Nazi Germany in 1938 and joined his sister in Chicago. He received a doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Illinois in 1948 and worked alongside Watson at the California Institute of Technology before arriving at UC Berkeley in 1952.
Dr. Stent was also known as a scholar of the history and philosophy of biology. He published books on the biology of morality and the nature of consciousness, along with several books about molecular genetics.
His 2002 book "Paradoxes of Free Will" won the 2002 John F. Lewis Award from the American Philosophical Society.