University of Oxford
2018 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences
For elucidating the sophisticated mechanism that mediates the perilous separation of duplicated chromosomes during cell division and thereby prevents genetic diseases such as cancer.
Napoleon supposedly said that he would prefer a lucky general to a good one. Important events “hang by a hair.” My first luck was the set of chromosomes that I inherited from my parents, not to mention their contributions to my intellectual development. I was fortunate to be so bad at writing essays at school that I had to drop my favorite subject, history, and was driven into the arms of science. In James Cook, I was lucky to have a chemistry teacher, and in Simon Hardy, a lecturer in molecular genetics, whose explanations made sense. I was lucky to do my doctoral work in Mitchison’s lab, where Paul Nurse was applying genetics to study yeast cell division, giving me tools that I still use, and to witness the discovery that Cdc2 is the mitotic trigger, which forever raised my own expectations. I was lucky to work at the LMB in Cambridge, where we were expected not merely to please our peers but to explain the world, not just in terms of what we already know but in terms of what can be imagined. I was lucky to work with gifted students and postdocs, to have a long and fruitful collaboration with Jan Loewe, and to be supported by Boehringer Ingelheim, the Wellcome Trust, and Cancer Research UK. Last but not least, I was lucky to have a loving family, especially my wife, Anna, who put up with long absences in the lab and supported me throughout.