Paul Nurse

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Sir Paul Nurse
Paul Nurse portrait.jpg
Born Paul Maxime Nurse
(1949-01-25) 25 January 1949 (age 73)[1]
Norwich, Norfolk, England
Nationality British
Alma mater
Thesis The spatial and temporal organisation of amino acid pools in Candida utilis (1974)
Doctoral advisor Tony Simms[citation needed]
Doctoral students
Notable awards
Spouse Anne Teresa Nurse (née Talbott)[1]
Children two daughters[1]

Sir Paul Maxime Nurse FRS FREng (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 (duplication) of cells in the cell cycle.[9]

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] 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[11] and his PhD degree in 1973 from the University of East Anglia for research on Candida utilis.[12]


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]

Beginning in 1976, Nurse identified the gene cdc2 in fission yeast[15][16] (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.[17]

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.[18]

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.[18]

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 where he continues to work on the cell cycle of fission yeast. It was announced on 15 July 2010 that Nurse was to become the first Director and Chief Executive of the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation.[19] He took up his post on 1 January 2011.

On 30 November 2010, Sir Paul succeeded Martin Rees as President of the Royal Society.

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.[20]

Awards and honours

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Nurse has received numerous awards and honours. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1989[21][22][23] and 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.[24] 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.[25] In 2015, he was elected a foreign academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.[26]

Nurse has received many Honorary Degrees, including from the University of Bath in 2002, the University of Kent in 2012, the University of Warwick (Doctor of Science)[27] and the University of Worcester[28] (Doctor of Science) in 2013. He was also appointed an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering (HonFREng) in 2012.[29]

Personal life

Nurse is married to Anne Teresa (née Talbott); they have two daughters.[1] He describes himself as an atheist.[30][31]

Political views

As an undergraduate student at Birmingham Nurse sold Socialist Worker, and participated in an occupation of the vice-chancellor's office.[32][33] 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.[34]

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.[35] 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."[35]

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.[35] 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 skepticism, for consistency of approach, for the constant testing of ideas."[35] Furthermore, Nurse feels that scientific leaders "have a responsibility to expose the bunkum". They should take on politicians, and expose nonsense during elections.[35]

In August 2014, Nurse was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September's referendum on that issue.[36]

Nurse believes that scientists should speak out about science in public affairs and challenge politicians who support policies based on pseudoscience.[37]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 NURSE, Sir Paul (Maxime). Who's Who. 2014 (online Oxford University Press ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (subscription required)
  2. Fisher, Daniel Leslie (1995). Molecular characterization of the fission yeast cyclin B homologue, cdc13 (DPhil thesis). University of Oxford.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Labib, Karim (1993). Regulation of S-phase and mitosis in fission yeast (DPhil thesis). University of Oxford.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. MacNeill, Stuart Andrew (1990). Structural and functional analysis of the fission yeast p34cdc2 protein kinase (DPhil thesis). University of Oxford.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Woollard, Alison (1995). Cell cycle control in fission yeast (DPhil thesis). University of Oxford.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Nurse, P; Treisman, R; Smith, J (2013). "Building better institutions". Science. 341 (6141): 10. doi:10.1126/science.1242307. PMID 23828914.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Paul Nurse's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database, a service provided by Elsevier.
  9. The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2001.
  10. Paul Nurse on The Life Scientific in 2011, BBC
  11. Our Alumni - website of the University of Birmingham
  12. Nurse, Paul Maxime (1974). The spatial and temporal organisation of amino acid pools in Candida utilis (PhD thesis). University of East Anglia.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Autobiography of Paul Nurse". Retrieved 20 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Nurse, Paul. "Cyclin Dependent Kinases and Cell Cycle Control" (PDF). Retrieved 20 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Nurse, P. (2004). "Wee beasties". Nature. 432 (7017): 557–557. doi:10.1038/432557a. PMID 15577889.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. 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. doi:10.1038/327031a0. PMID 3553962.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. 18.0 18.1 The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2001 Illustrated Lecture
  19. "Project Press Release". UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation web site. 15 July 2010. Retrieved 11 August 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "Fellowship of the Royal Society 1660-2015". Royal Society. Archived from the original on 15 July 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Entry at ORCID
  23. "EC/1989/23 Nurse, Sir Paul Maxime". London: The Royal Society. Archived from the original on 3 September 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. "Advisory Council of the Campaign for Science and Engineering". Retrieved 11 February 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. "World Cultural Council 30th Award Ceremony" Check |url= value (help). Nanyang Technological University. 2 October 2013. Retrieved 2 October 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. 关于公布2015年中国科学院院士增选当选院士名单的公告
  27. "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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. "Worcester honorary degrees and Fellowships". University of Worcester. 21 November 2013. Retrieved 21 November 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. "List of Fellows".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  32. McKie, Robin (24 October 2010). "Paul Nurse: Home truths for the gene genius". The Observer. London: Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 13 July 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  33. Brooks, Michael (9 June 2011). "The Science Interview - Paul Nurse". New Statesman. London: Progressive Media International. Retrieved 13 July 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. "Somehow, I knew I'd see you again, you bastard". Times Higher Education. TES Global. 27 June 2003. Retrieved 13 July 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  35. 35.0 35.1 35.2 35.3 35.4 Stamp out anti-science; it's time to reject political movements that turn their backs on science, Paul Nurse, New Scientist, 17 September 2011
  36. "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland – full text and list of signatories | Politics". 7 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
Academic offices
Preceded by
Arnold Levine
President of Rockefeller University
Succeeded by
Marc Tessier-Lavigne