Portrait of John Gurdon and Andrea Brand

Anne-Katrin PurkissOctober 2018

The Royal Society

The Royal Society
London, United Kingdom

Half-length portrait of John Gurdon and Andrea Brand seated outside the Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge.

Sir John Gurdon was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1971, he served on the Council from 1980 -1982 and from 1993-1995. A Nobel Prize-winning developmental biologist who performed pioneering research on nuclear transplantation and cloning. In his seminal experiment, John replaced the nucleus of a frog egg with the nucleus of a mature cell from the tadpole intestine. The resulting embryo grew into a healthy clone of the tadpole — indicating that, despite their specialisation, the nuclei of adult cells still hold the potential to become any other type of cell.

However, John’s discovery could not be fully confirmed until Shinya Yamanaka — with whom he was jointly awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine — identified a small set of proteins expressed in embryos that conclusively induced the reversion of an adult somatic cell to an immature state.

John currently investigates the mechanisms by which egg cells reverse the specialisation of adult cells, aiming to produce replacements for damaged tissues from readily available sources, such as the skin. He was knighted for services to developmental biology in 1995, and the techniques that he developed to perform nuclear transfer remain in use today.

Professor Andrea Brand, neuroscientist, was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2010. She studies nervous system development, identifying the genes that direct the specific behaviours of cells in the brain. These cells, neurons and glia, are produced by multipotent precursors called neural stem cells. Andrea studies the genes that regulate the transition from a neural stem cell to a specialised neuronal or glial cell type. With sufficient knowledge of these networks, it should be possible to manipulate stem cells to proliferate, remain quiescent or differentiate into specialised neurons or glia, with the aim of repairing or regenerating the nervous system after injury or disease.

Early in her career Andrea investigated how genes are turned on and off. She characterised the first transcriptional silencer, a regulatory element that represses rather than enhances gene expression. Andrea originated the GAL4 system to enable genes to be switched on or off in a targeted, cell type-specific pattern in vivo.

Andrea is a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and Member of EMBO. She has received the Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award, William Bate Hardy Prize and Hooke Medal.


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