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Paul Nurse, Ph.D.

President Emeritus
Laboratory of Yeast Genetics and Cell Biology

Research Lab Members Publications In the News

Faculty Bio

Paul Nurse

Dr Nurse’s research focuses on the molecular machineries that control cell division and cell shape. Using the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe as a model system, his laboratory studies the cell cycle and cell morphogenesis controls operative in eukaryotic cells. His major past contribution was the codiscovery of cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) as the key regulator molecule controlling S phase and mitosis, findings that have had implications for understanding cell reproduction, cell growth, development and cancer.

Present work in the Nurse laboratory is in three areas: the cell cycle, cell form and genomic studies. The lab is split on two sites, with the major activity located at the Francis Crick Institute in London, and a smaller group located at The Rockefeller University, which works mainly on combining chemical biology and genetics to investigate cell biology problems in fission yeast. This work is in collaboration with two Rockefeller University faculty members, Tarun Kapoor and Howard C. Hang. 

With Dr. Kapoor, the Nurse lab works on the development and use of fission yeast for chemical biology. A fission yeast strain has been constructed with compromised multidrug resistance, allowing chemical drug screens and experiments to be carried out efficiently. This strain has been used in synthetic lethal approaches to identify chemicals that influence the course of mitosis. Two chemical drugs and their targets have been identified and characterized. The first inhibits fatty acid synthase, which reduces nuclear membrane growth during telophase, and the second inhibits Aurora protein kinase and has been used to demonstrate that the various functions of this kinase are triggered by different levels of activity.

With Dr. Hang, the Nurse lab has identified protein palmitolyation as an important determinant for meiotic commitment.

Another project is the characterization of the spatial and temporal organization of origin usage during S phase. This has shown that origins are initially fired stochastically along the chromosomes and then become grouped in clusters. The positions of these clusters vary in different S phases, and the clusters appear to correspond to foci of replication observed in eukaryotic S phase nuclei. A further project is using bioinformatic approaches to link cell cycle and cell form genes to human cancer, particularly breast cancer.


Dr. Nurse, a native of the United Kingdom, graduated from Birmingham University in 1970 and received his Ph.D. in cell biology and biochemistry from the University of East Anglia in 1973. He did postdoctoral work at universities in Bern, Switzerland, Edinburgh and Sussex and joined the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) in London in 1984. In 1988 he moved to the University of Oxford as chair of its department of microbiology, and he returned to ICRF in 1993 as a director of research. He became director general in 1996 and in 2002 was appointed chief executive of Cancer Research UK, formed when he merged ICRF with the Cancer Research Campaign. He was president of The Rockefeller University from 2003 to 2011, when he became director of the Francis Crick Institute in London.

Dr. Nurse is a fellow of The Royal Society of the UK and a foreign associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. He received The Royal Society’s Royal and Copley medals and the Legion d’Honneur in 2002, the Lasker Award in 1998 and the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2001. In 1999 he was honored with knighthood in Great Britain for services in cancer research and cell biology and since 2000 has been a member of the UK Council for Science and Technology advising the prime minister. He is presently the 60th president of The Royal Society.

Dr. Nurse is a faculty member in the David Rockefeller Graduate Program and the Tri-Institutional M.D.-Ph.D. Program.

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