Paul Nurse

Sir Paul Maxime Nurse FRS FMedSci HonFREng HonFBA MAE (born 25 January 1949), is an English geneticist, former President of the Royal Society and Chief Executive and Director of the Francis Crick Institute.[6][7][8] He was awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Leland Hartwell and Tim Hunt for their discoveries of protein molecules that control the division of cells in the cell cycle.[9]

Sir Paul Nurse

8th Chancellor of the University of Bristol
Assumed office
PresidentHugh R. Brady
Preceded byThe Baroness Hale of Richmond
61st President of the Royal Society
In office
1 December 2010  1 December 2015
Preceded byMartin Rees
Succeeded byVenkatraman Ramakrishnan
9th President of Rockefeller University
In office
Preceded byArnold Levine
Succeeded byMarc Tessier-Lavigne
Personal details
Paul Maxime Nurse

(1949-01-25) 25 January 1949[1]
Norwich, Norfolk, England
Anne Teresa Nurse (née Talbott) (m. 1971)
Children2 daughters[1]
Alma mater
Scientific career
ThesisThe spatial and temporal organisation of amino acid pools in Candida utilis (1974)
Doctoral advisorAnthony P. Sims[4]
Doctoral studentsAlison Woollard[5]

Early life and education

Nurse's mother went from London to Norwich, Norfolk and lived with relatives while awaiting Paul's birth in order to hide illegitimacy. For the rest of their lives his maternal grandmother pretended to be his mother and his mother pretended to be his sister.[10] Paul was brought up by his grandparents in North West London.[11] He was educated at Lyon Park school in Alperton and Harrow County Grammar School.[1] His undergraduate applications were rejected by the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Sussex and York because he did not possess the required foreign language GCE. He was offered a place at the University of Birmingham on the condition that he take French classes in his first year. He received his BSc degree in biology in 1970 from the University of Birmingham[12] and his PhD degree in 1973 from the University of East Anglia for research on Candida utilis.[4] He then pursued postdoctoral work at the University of Bern, Edinburgh University and Sussex University.

Career and research

Nurse continued his postdoctoral research at the laboratory of Murdoch Mitchison at the University of Edinburgh for the next six years (1973-1979).[13][14][15]

Beginning in 1976, Nurse identified the gene cdc2 in fission yeast[16][17] (Schizosaccharomyces pombe). This gene controls the progression of the cell cycle from G1 phase to S phase and the transition from G2 phase to mitosis. In 1987, Nurse identified the homologous gene in human, Cdk1, which codes for a cyclin dependent kinase.[18]

When cells with nuclei divide, they divide in phases called G1 (growth), S (synthesis), G2 (growth), and M (mitosis). Nurse, Hartwell and Hunt together discovered two proteins, cyclin and cyclin dependent kinase (CDK), that control the transition from one stage to another. These proteins are called checkpoints, because they check whether the cell has divided properly. If the cell doesn't divide correctly, other proteins will attempt to repair it, and if unsuccessful, they will destroy the cell. If a cell divides incorrectly and survives, it can cause cancer and other serious diseases.[19]

Working in fission yeast, Nurse identified the gene cdc2, which controls the transition from G1 to S, when the cell grows in preparation for the duplication of DNA, and G2 to M, when the cell divides. With his postdoc Melanie Lee, Nurse also found the corresponding gene, CDK1, in humans. These genes stop and start cyclin dependent kinase (CDK) by adding or removing phosphate groups.[19]

In 1984, Nurse joined the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF, now Cancer Research UK). He left in 1988 to chair the department of microbiology at the University of Oxford. He then returned to the ICRF as Director of Research in 1993, and in 1996 was named Director General of the ICRF, which became Cancer Research UK in 2002. In 2003, he became president of Rockefeller University in New York City[20] where he continued work on the cell cycle of fission yeast. In 2011 Nurse became the first Director and Chief Executive of the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation,[21] now the Francis Crick Institute.

On 30 November 2010, Sir Paul succeeded Martin Rees as President of the Royal Society. And he stepped down in 2015 when his 5-year term was completed.

Nurse has said good scientists must have passion 'to know the answer to the questions' that interest them, along with good technical ability, and a set of attitudes including mental honesty, self-criticism, open-mindedness and scepticism.[22]

Awards and honours

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Nurse has received numerous awards and honours. He was elected a EMBO Member in 1987[2] and a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1989[23][24] and the Founder Member of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 1998. In 1995 he received a Royal Medal and became a foreign associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. He received the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 1998. Nurse was knighted in 1999. He was awarded the French Legion d'Honneur in 2002. He was also awarded the Copley Medal in 2005. He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences – one of the top honours – in April 2006. He is a member of the Advisory Council for the Campaign for Science and Engineering.[25] Nurse is the 2007 recipient of the Hope Funds Award of Excellence in Basic Research. In 2013, he was awarded the Albert Einstein World Award of Science by the World Cultural Council.[26] In 2015, he was elected a foreign academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences,[27] and won the 10th annual Henry G. Friesen International Prize in Health Research, in Ottawa, Canada.[28][29]

Nurse has received over 60 Honorary Degrees and Fellowships, including from the University of Bath in 2002, the University of Oxford in 2003, the University of Cambridge in 2003, the University of Kent in 2012, the University of Warwick (Doctor of Science)[30] the University of Worcester[31] (Doctor of Science) in 2013, City, University of London [32] (Doctor of Science) on 16 July 2014 and McGill University[33] (Doctor of Science) in 2017. He was also appointed an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering (HonFREng) in 2012 [34] and Honorary Fellow of the British Association (HonFBA).[35] In July 2016 it was announced that he will be the next Chancellor of the University of Bristol.[36][37]

Personal life

Nurse married Anne Teresa (née Talbott) in 1971; they have two daughters, Sarah, who works for ITV, and Emily,[38] a physicist based at University College London and CERN,[39][1] He describes himself as a sceptical agnostic.[40]

Political views

Nurse has been a member of the Labour Party (UK) for nearly 40 years.

As an undergraduate student at Birmingham, Nurse sold Socialist Worker, and participated in an occupation of the vice-chancellor's office.[39][41] As a graduate student at East Anglia he continued to sell Socialist Worker, and was sympathetic to the International Socialist Tendency but never formally joined the movement.[42]

Nurse has criticized potential Republican party candidates for the US presidential nomination for opposing the teaching of natural selection, stem cell research on cell lines from human embryos, and anthropogenic climate change, even partially blaming scientists for not speaking up.[43] He was alarmed that this could happen in the U.S., a world leader in science, "the home of Benjamin Franklin, Richard Feynman and Jim Watson."[43]

One problem, Nurse said, was "treating scientific discussion as if it were political debate," using rhetorical tricks rather than logic. Another was the state of science teaching in the schools, which does not teach citizens how to discuss science – particularly in religious schools, even in the United Kingdom.[43] Nurse has written that "we need to emphasise why the scientific process is such a reliable generator of knowledge with its respect for evidence, for scepticism, for consistency of approach, for the constant testing of ideas."[43] Furthermore, Nurse feels that scientific leaders "have a responsibility to expose the bunkum". They should take on politicians, and expose nonsense during elections.[43]

In August 2014, Nurse was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian expressing their hope that Scotland would vote to remain part of the United Kingdom in September's referendum on that issue.[44]

Nurse believes that scientists should speak out about science in public affairs and challenge politicians who support policies based on pseudoscience.[45]


  1. "NURSE, Sir Paul (Maxime)". Who's Who. 2014 (online Oxford University Press ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. (subscription or UK public library membership required) (subscription required)
  2. "EMBO profile: Paul Nurse".
  3. Louis-Jeantet Prize
  4. Nurse, Paul Maxime (1974). The spatial and temporal organisation of amino acid pools in Candida utilis (PhD thesis). University of East Anglia. OCLC 500529574. EThOS
  5. Woollard, Alison (1995). Cell cycle control in fission yeast. (DPhil thesis). University of Oxford. OCLC 43404640. EThOS
  6. Nurse, P (2012). "In answer to questions about the Francis Crick Institute". The Lancet. 379 (9835): 2427–8. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61066-6. PMID 22748588.
  7. Nurse, Paul; Treisman, Richard; Smith, Jim (2013). "Building better institutions". Science. 341 (6141): 10. Bibcode:2013Sci...341...10N. doi:10.1126/science.1242307. PMID 23828914.
  8. Paul Nurse's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (subscription required)
  9. The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2001.
  10. Paul Nurse on The Life Scientific in 2011, BBC
  11. Nurse, Sir Paul. "Sir Paul Nurse: 'I looked at my birth certificate. That was not my mother's name'". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
  12. Our Alumni Archived 21 April 2015 at the Wayback Machine - website of the University of Birmingham
  13. "Autobiography of Paul Nurse". Retrieved 20 September 2012.
  14. Nurse, Paul. "Cyclin Dependent Kinases and Cell Cycle Control" (PDF). Retrieved 20 September 2012.
  15. Fantes PA; Hoffman CS (2016). "A Brief History of Schizosaccharomyces pombe Research: A Perspective Over the Past 70 Years". Genetics. 203 (2): 621–9. doi:10.1534/genetics.116.189407. PMC 4896181. PMID 27270696.
  16. Nurse, P.; Thuriaux, P.; Nasmyth, K. (1976). "Genetic control of the cell division cycle in the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe". Molecular & General Genetics : MGG. 146 (2): 167–178. doi:10.1007/BF00268085. PMID 958201.
  17. Nurse, P. (2004). "Wee beasties". Nature. 432 (7017): 557. Bibcode:2004Natur.432..557N. doi:10.1038/432557a. PMID 15577889.
  18. Lee, M. G.; Nurse, P. (1987). "Complementation used to clone a human homologue of the fission yeast cell cycle control gene cdc2". Nature. 327 (6117): 31–35. Bibcode:1987Natur.327...31L. doi:10.1038/327031a0. PMID 3553962.
  19. The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2001 Illustrated Lecture
  20. Sample, Ian (17 September 2003). "Paul Nurse talks to Ian Sample about money, moustaches, and his move to Manhattan". The Guardian.
  21. "Project Press Release". UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation web site. 15 July 2010. Retrieved 11 August 2010.
  22. "YouTube".
  23. "Fellowship of the Royal Society 1660-2015". Royal Society. Archived from the original on 15 July 2015.
  24. Anon (1989). "EC/1989/23 Nurse, Sir Paul Maxime". London: The Royal Society. Archived from the original on 3 September 2014.
  25. "Advisory Council of the Campaign for Science and Engineering". Archived from the original on 28 August 2010. Retrieved 2011-02-11.
  26. "World Cultural Council 30th Award Ceremony". Nanyang Technological University. 2 October 2013. Retrieved 2 October 2013.
  27. 关于公布2015年中国科学院院士增选当选院士名单的公告
  28. "The Eminent Dr. Nurse". Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  29. "The 2015 Henry G. Friesen International Prize in Health Research is awarded to Sir Paul... -- TORONTO, May 4, 2015". Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  30. "Warwick honorary degrees for stars of Gavin & Stacey & Hustle, RSC & Royal Court Artistic Directors, scientists, historians, philanthropist & a US government adviser". University of Warwick. 28 June 2013. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  31. "Worcester honorary degrees and Fellowships". University of Worcester. 21 November 2013. Retrieved 21 November 2013.
  34. "List of Fellows".
  35. "Our Honorary Fellows".
  36. "University of Bristol press release".
  37. "Sir Paul Nurse becomes Bristol University chancellor". BBC News. 1 January 2017.
  38. Emily Nurse's Entry at ORCID
  39. McKie, Robin (24 October 2010). "Paul Nurse: Home truths for the gene genius". London: The Observer. Archived from the original on 5 March 2016.
  40. "Sir Paul Nurse - Biographical".
  41. Brooks, Michael (9 June 2011). "The Science Interview - Paul Nurse". New Statesman. London: Progressive Media International. Retrieved 13 July 2015.
  42. "Somehow, I knew I'd see you again, you bastard". Times Higher Education. TES Global. 27 June 2003. Retrieved 13 July 2015.
  43. Stamp out anti-science; it's time to reject political movements that turn their backs on science, Paul Nurse, New Scientist, 17 September 2011
  44. "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland – full text and list of signatories". The Guardian. London. 7 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  45. "Last Word Archive - New Scientist".
Professional and academic associations
Preceded by
Martin Rees
President of the Royal Society
Succeeded by
Venkatraman Ramakrishnan
Academic offices
Preceded by
Arnold Levine
President of Rockefeller University
Succeeded by
Marc Tessier-Lavigne
Preceded by
The Baroness Hale of Richmond
Chancellor of the University of Bristol
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