Three of biology’s great ideas are the gene theory, the theory of evolution by natural selection and the proposal that the cell is the fundamental unit of all life. When considering the question of ‘what is life?’ these ideas come together, because the special way cells reproduce provides the conditions by which natural selection takes place allowing living organisms to evolve. A fourth idea is that the organization of chemistry within the cell provides explanations for life’s phenomena. A new idea is the nature of biological self-organization on which living cells and organisms process information and acquire specific forms. Nurse will discuss how these great ideas have influenced and changed the way we think of science today.
A Nobel laureate and HHMI Trustee, Nurse was elected president of the Royal Society in 2010. The Society is a self-governing fellowship of many of the world’s most distinguished scientists drawn from all areas of science, engineering, and medicine. Its fundamental purpose, as it has been since its foundation in 1660, is to recognize, promote, and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity. Prior to leading the Royal Society, Nurse served as president of The Rockefeller University. He was also chief executive of Cancer Research UK, the world's largest cancer research organization outside the U.S.
Nurse is a distinguished scientist who shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Leland Hartwell and R. Timothy Hunt for fundamental discoveries concerning control of the cell cycle. A geneticist who uses fission yeast as a model system, he continues an active research program that focuses on the cell cycle and how the cell organizes its internal structures to prepare for cell division.
A native of England, Nurse graduated from the University of Birmingham in 1970 and received his Ph.D. from the University of East Anglia in 1973. Nurse headed laboratories at the University of Sussex, the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF), and Oxford University before rejoining the ICRF in 1996 as its Director General. He presided over its merger with the Cancer Research Council.
Nurse's research has been recognized around the world. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society and, in 1995, became a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences. He has received the Gairdner Foundation International Award (1992), the Alfred P. Sloan Jr. Prize from the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation (1997), and the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research (1998).