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Great Scientists

Paul Nurse

1949 -

Paul Nurse

Sir Paul Nurse is a British biologist and geneticist, who won a Nobel Prize for the discovery of controlling proteins in cell cycles. He is the current President of the Royal Society and Chief Executive and Director of the Francis Crick Institute.

  • Nationality
  • English

  • Subject
  • Biology, Genetics

  • Fields
  • Cell cycle, Proteins

  • Distinctions
  • Nobel Prize 2001: Physiology or Medicine (with Leland Hartwell and Tim Hunt) for the discovery of protein molecules involved in the division of cells.

    Legion d'Honneur 2002

    Knighthood in 1999

    Copley Medal 2005

    Recipient of the Albert Einstein World Award for Science, from the World Cultural Council.

  • Posts
  • Chair of the Department of Microbiology at Oxford University, 1988-1993

    ICRF (Imperial Cancer Research Fund, now Cancer Research UK): member (1984-1988), Director of Research (1993-6), Director General (1996-2003).

    Rockefeller University, New York, President 2003-

    UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation, Direct and Chief Executive, 2011-

    Royal Society, President 2010 -

  • Experiments/Discoveries
  • 1976: successfully identified the gene cdc2 in fission yeast, which revealed information about nuclei divisions during cell cycle phases: transitions from G1 (growth) to S (synthesis) phases, and from G2 (growth) to M (mitosis) phases.

    1987: discovered the gene Cdk1, a human homologous gene, which codes for a cyclin dependent kinase (CDK), determinant for transitions between phases. This work on checkpoint proteins was key for cancer research.

Oxford and Cambridge turned down Paul Nurse's application to study as an undergraduate, because he did not have GCE French. So, instead, he went to Birmingham University. He obtained his PhD from the University of East Anglia, and during his post-doctoral research (1973-79) at Edinburgh University successfully identified the gene cdc2 in fission yeast, which revealed information about nuclei divisions during cell cycle phases: transitions from G1 (growth) to S (synthesis) phases, and from G2 (growth) to M (mitosis) phases. His next gene discovery was Cdk1, a human homologous gene, which codes for a cyclin dependent kinase (CDK), determinant for transitions between phases. This work on checkpoint proteins was key for cancer research.

Nurse has expressed strong criticism of George Bush and the Republican Party's stance on suppressing research into stem cells, and their denial of natural selection, climate change, and encouraged scientists to be more vocal in current affairs on scientific issues. He also criticised science teaching in schools, emphasising the vital role of science in developing critical thinking, and positions of healthy skepticism, often lacking in political debate and religious doctrine present in education.

"We need to emphasise why the scientific process is such a reliable generator of knowledge, with its respect for evidence, for skepticism, for consistencey of approach, for the constant testing of ideas."

"[Scientific leaders] have a responsibility to expose the bumkum. They should take on politicians and expose nonsense during elections." [Hardtalk interview, 2014(?)]