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OU on the BBC: Cell City - Meet the Cell City scientists

Updated Thursday, 16th May 2002

Meet the scientists who explain the link between cities and the structure of our bodies

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The scientists from the TV programmes work with different aspects of the cell. Find out more about the scientists and their specialities below.

Professor Gunter Blobel PROFESSOR GÜNTER BLOBEL Rockefeller University, New York

Awarded the 1999 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his pioneering work on zip-codes, or postcodes, within a cell. Günter Blobel studies the process by which newly made proteins are transported across the membranes of cell structures called organelles. Because the accurate distribution of proteins to their proper places in the cell is necessary for a cell to function, these findings have an immediate bearing on many diseases, including cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer's disease and AIDS.

For more information visit Professor Blobel's website.


Cancer Research UK, London
Nobel Prize winner in 2001 for Physiology and Medicine with Lee Hartwell and Paul Nurse

Cell Division, Signalling

Tim Hunt works for Cancer Research UK at its Clare Hall Laboratories near South Mimms. He is interested in the control of the cell cycle, focussing on the function and destruction of cyclins, the activating subunits of cyclin depedent protein kinases (CDKs). These "Key Regulators of the Cell Cycle" undergo periodic oscillations and are essential regulators of chromosome replication and cell division. The structure of these enzymes, which transfer phosphate from ATP to an unknown number of other cellular proteins, is now known at atomic detail, yet the identity of the key target proteins and the effect(s) of their phosphorylation remain to be clarified. Similarly, while it is known in some detail how the cyclins are degraded rapidly and specifically at the end of mitosis, mysteries about precisely how they are recognised and what does this recognition remain elusive, and is an important current topic of investigation.

Tim Hunt discovered cyclins by accident while teaching a summer laboratory practical course at the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts. At the time, he was a Lecturer in Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge, U.K. and more interested in the control of protein synthesis, which is complicated enough, than in cell cycle control, which encompasses almost every aspect of a cell's behaviour. Fortunately, Woods Hole was (and remains) a wonderful environment in which to learn first hand about cell division: it has the one of the best biological libraries in the world as well as a constant flow of biologists, young and old, during the summer months.


Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, Seattle, USA

Nobel Prize winner in 2001 for Physiology and Medicine with Sir Paul Nurse and Tim Hunt

Cell Division, DNA, Signalling

To find out more information on Dr Lee Hartwell and his work, visit the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Centre Website.


Professor H. Robert Horvitz PROFESSOR H. ROBERT HORVITZ
Professor of Biology
Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cell Death and Signalling

For more information Professor Horvitz, and his work visit his website at the MIT Department of Biology.


Professor of Medicine, University of Newcastle-upon- TyneHead of Department of Gerontology

Cellular Ageing

Tom Kirkwood has been, since 1999, Professor of Medicine and Head of the Department of Gerontology in the Institute for Ageing and Health at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He worked at the UK National Institute for Medical Research from 1981 until 1993, when he became Britain’s first Professor of Biological Gerontology at the University of Manchester. He has been Chair of the British Society for Research on Ageing, Governor and Chair of the Research Advisory Council of the medical research charity Research into Ageing and Chair of the UK Foresight Task Force on ‘Health Care of Older People’. He is on the editorial boards of several academic journals, European Editor of Mechanisms of Ageing and Development, has served on various national grants committees (e.g. Wellcome Trust, MRC) and is currently a Council Member of the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). He is author of the award-winning popular science book Time of Our Lives: The Science of Human Ageing, and of Chance, Development and Ageing, coauthored with leading US gerontologist Caleb Finch. He gave the BBC Reith Lectures in 2001 on the theme ‘The End of Age’ (also published as a book of the same title).

Tom Kirkwood has been actively involved in ageing research since 1975. His work on the disposable soma theory, first proposed in 1977, provides an evolutionary explanation of ageing that makes testable predictions about cell and molecular mechanisms. The current focus of his research group is on testing these ideas, particularly the role of cell stress response and maintenance systems in ageing and longevity. The group also has a core interest in modelling the complex molecular mechanisms that contribute to ageing and has pioneered bioinformatics (e-science) approaches for studying these mechanisms by developing ‘virtual’ ageing cells and tissues.


Cancer Research UK, London
Nobel Prize winner in 2001 for Physiology and Medicine with Tim Hunt and Lee Hartwell

Cell Division and DNA

Dr Paul Nurse is Interim Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK - the new charity that emerged from the merger of Imperial Cancer Research Fund and The Cancer Research Campaign in February 2002. The charity funds around 3000 scientists, doctors and nurses and, this year will have a research spend of over £170 million, making it the world’s largest independent cancer research organisation. Paul Nurse combines his Chief Executive responsibilities with his ongoing role as head of his own laboratory - also at Cancer Research UK.

The Cell Cycle Laboratory led by Dr Nurse studies the genes that are involved in cell division. He became interested in the cell cycle because it is a very simple example of development - the most basic form of reproduction and a characteristic of all living things. He believed that its study would reveal something very important about the question ‘what is life?’.

Over the years his lab has greatly enhanced our understanding of the nature of cells and has provided fundamental insights central to the understanding of the origins of cancer. He is probably best known for his contribution to the discovery of the mechanism which controls cell division in most living organisms and was recently awarded the Nobel Prize for ‘Physiology or Medicine’ in recognition of the work.

Away from the lab, Dr Nurse focusses on the role of science in society and is keen to promote better communication between scientists and the wider population. When he’s not in the lab or gazing at the stars (he’s a keen amateur astronomer) he can be found soaring around the countryside in a glider.


University College London

Cell Death and Growth

To find out more information on Martin Raff and his work, visit his website at University College London.


Wellcome Cancer Research Centre
University of Cambridge


Jordan Raff studied Biochemistry as an undergraduate at Bristol University. He did his PhD in the Department of Biochemistry at Imperial College London, where he first started to work on cell division in fruit flies. He has continued to work on this problem throughout his scientific career, first as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of California, San Francisco, and then as a Wellcome Trust funded Senior Research Fellow working at the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge. During his time in the USA he was Chair of British Scientists Abroad, a pressure group that campaigns for better Government funding of basic research in the UK. He has a long standing interest in promoting the public understanding of science and regularly gives talks to a general audience on various aspects of science.


John Innes Centre

Principal scientific adviser and presenter of Cell City, Professor Keith Roberts is Associate Director of the John Innes Centre, and Professor of Cell Biology at the University of East Anglia. He is a joint author of "Molecular Biology of the Cell" - a world-renowned work on the subject. Keith has been the driving force behind many initiatives to promote the public understanding of science.


Assistant Professor in Biochemistry, Microbiology and ImmunologyStanford University, USA


To find out more information on Julie Theriot and her work visit the Theriot Lab website.


Sloan-Kettering Institute, New York, USA

Awarded, along with Dr. Michael Bishop, the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the identification of a large family of genes that control the normal growth and division of cells. Disturbances in one or some of these so-called oncogenes can lead to transformation of a normal cell into a tumour cell and result in cancer. Former Head of the US National Institutes of Health - responsible for managing the largest medical research entity in the world, with an annual budget of $11 billion. Harold Varmus is now President of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York.

To find out more information, visit Dr Varmus' research website.

Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory, NY, USA

Nobel prize winner in 1962 for Physiology and Medicine with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins


To find out more information about James Watson's life and work from the CSH Library and Archives.


Keratinocyte Laboratory Cancer Research UK

Dr. Fiona Watt is currently President of the British Society for Cell Biology. Her pioneering work involves how the proliferation, differentiation and tissue assembly of epidermal stem cells and their progeny are controlled and how these processes relate to cancer.





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