Sir Paul Nurse

Photo Credit: Fiona Hanson/AP Images
United Kingdom

Nobel Laureate Sir Paul Nurse is a geneticist and cell biologist whose discoveries have helped explain how the cell controls its cycle of growth and division. His research findings have broad implications, since errors in cell growth and division may lead to cancer and other serious diseases.

Born in Norfolk and raised in London, Sir Paul received his PhD in cell biology/biochemistry from the University of East Anglia (1973). During postdoctoral studies at the University of Edinburgh, he used a classical genetics approach to study the cell cycle by identifying and examining a set of cell-cycle defective mutants. This work led him to identify the gene cdc2 in fission yeast and show that it controls the progression of the cell cycle from the G1 phase to the S phase and the transition from the G2 phase to mitosis.

In his own laboratory at the University of Sussex, he developed the techniques that enabled him to clone the cdc2 gene from fission yeast and show that it encoded a protein kinase, which ensures the cell is ready to copy its DNA and divide. Later, conducting research at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF), he identified the human homologous gene, Cdk1, which codes for a cyclin-dependent kinase.

Sir Paul went on to serve as ICRF’s Director of Research, Director General, and Chief Executive, and, in 2003, he became President of Rockefeller University in New York City, continuing his work on the cell cycle, cell form, and genomics of fission yeast. In 2010, he was appointed the first Director and Chief Executive of the Francis Crick Institute in London and President of the Royal Society.

Sir Paul’s pioneering research and pivotal discoveries were recognized, along with those of Dr. Leland Hartwell and Dr. Tim Hunt, by the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. In 1989, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) and in 1995, he received the Royal Society Royal Medal and became a foreign associate of the US National Academy of Sciences. He earned the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 1998 and was knighted in 1999. Sir Paul was awarded the French Legion d'Honneur in 2002 and the Royal Society Copley Medal in 2005. He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2006 and was a member of the UK Council for Science and Technology, advising the Prime Minister from 2000 - 2015. In 2013, he received the Albert Einstein World Award of Science conferred by the World Cultural Council. He is also a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and of the British Academy. He is the recipient of numerous honorary degrees.

Sir Paul is an ardent supporter of relations between the UK and Israel. During his term as president of the Royal Society, he was instrumental in establishing a collaboration agreement with the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.