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Mary Francis Lyons to receive Rockefeller's Pearl Meister Greengard Prize

The third annual Pearl Meister Greengard Prize, an international award to recognize the accomplishments of outstanding women scientists, will be presented to British geneticist Mary Frances Lyon on November 2.

The prize, awarded by Rockefeller University, was established by Paul Greengard, Rockefeller’s Vincent Astor Professor and head of the Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience, and his wife, sculptor Ursula von Rydingsvard. Dr. Greengard donated his entire monetary share of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Rockefeller and, in partnership with generous supporters of the university, created this prize. Named in memory of his mother, the prize was founded in part to acknowledge the struggle faced by women in the sciences and the historical paucity of recognition for their accomplishments.

Dr. Lyon, who spent most of her career in the radiobiology unit of the Medical Research Council in the United Kingdom, is honored for her groundbreaking work in mouse genetics. Trained at Cambridge University, Dr. Lyon’s most consequential discovery was the recognition, in 1961, of a fundamental genetic control mechanism called X-chromosome inactivation, also referred to as the Lyon hypothesis, which determined that in mammalian cells with multiple X chromosomes, all but one X chromosome is inactivated during embryogenesis.

Insights gained from Dr. Lyon’s discovery have led to significant advances in our understanding of X-linked inherited diseases such as hemophilia, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, fragile X syndrome and certain cancers. Dr. Lyon has also made major contributions to understanding the effects of radiation and other environmental agents on genetic mutation.

“Mary Frances Lyon is an exceptional role model, who worked in science at a time when it was quite difficult for a woman to pursue a career in research. It is a pleasure to recognize her contributions to the field of genetics with the third Pearl Meister Greengard Prize,” says Paul Nurse, president of Rockefeller University.

Dr. Lyon is a member of the Royal Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. She is the recipient of the Wolf Prize in Medicine, the March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology and the Gairdner Foundation International Award, among others.

Dr. Lyon will receive the award, which includes $50,000, at a ceremony on the Rockefeller University campus. Rockefeller President Paul Nurse will present the prize along with guest speaker Joan Didion, the American writer renowned as a journalist, playwright, essayist and novelist. Dr. Lyon will present her award lecture, “A History of the Development of Ideas on X-Chromosome Inactivation,” on November 3, as part of Rockefeller’s weekly campus lecture series. The November 2 prize presentation is open to the public. For more information, contact Amanda Martinez at (212) 327-7728 or