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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.

In collaboration with Tarun 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. The laboratory is exploring how chemical and genetic approaches can be combined with a particular focus on AAA proteins.

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.