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Janet Thornton

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Dame Janet Thornton
Janet Thornton
Janet Maureen McLoughlin[8]

(1949-05-23) 23 May 1949 (age 75)
EducationBury Grammar School[9]
Alma mater
Known for
Alan D. Thornton
(m. 1970)
Scientific career
ThesisThe conformation of dinucleotides (1975)
Notable students
Websitewww.ebi.ac.uk/research/thornton Edit this at Wikidata

Dame Janet Maureen Thornton, DBE FRS FMedSci FRSC (born 23 May 1949)[8] is a senior scientist and director emeritus at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI), part of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL).[12][13][14] She is one of the world's leading researchers in structural bioinformatics, using computational methods to understand protein structure and function.[2][15][16][17] She served as director of the EBI from October 2001 to June 2015, and played a key role in ELIXIR.[11]


Thornton attended Bury Grammar School until 1967, where she was head girl.[9] After graduating in physics from the University of Nottingham, Thornton completed a master's degree in biophysics at King's College London, and a PhD in biophysics at the National Institute for Medical Research, Mill Hill, London in 1973.[18]

Career and research[edit]

After her PhD, Thornton worked in molecular biophysics with David Chilton Phillips at the University of Oxford.[19][20] In 1978, she returned to the National Institute for Medical Research, and following that took up to a Fellowship at Birkbeck College, part of the University of London. In 1990 she was appointed Professor and Director of the Biomolecular Structure and Modeling Unit in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at University College London and later also was appointed to the Bernal Chair in the Crystallography Department at Birkbeck College.[citation needed]

Thornton was Director of the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) from 2001 to 2015, on the Wellcome Genome Campus at Hinxton near Cambridge. [21] She was an organiser of the Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology (ISMB) and European Conference on Computational Biology (ECCB) joint Conference in Glasgow in 2004.[22]

Thornton's work is highly interdisciplinary, interfacing with structural biology, bioinformatics, biological chemistry and chemoinformatics, amongst others. She was an early pioneer in structure validation for protein crystallography, developing the widely used ProCheck software.[23] Together with Christine Orengo, she introduced the CATH[24] classification of protein structure.[4][6][25][26][27][28][29][30][31] Her group developed a robust enzyme classification, comparison and annotation tool – the EC-BLAST[32] which calculates similarity between enzymes based on chemical reactions by capturing the bond change(s), reaction centre(s) or structural similarity between them.[33][32]

From 2008 to 2012, she co-ordinated the four-year preparatory phase of the European life sciences data infrastructure ELIXIR.[11] As of 2013 she remains on the ELIXIR board as one of EMBL's scientific delegates.[34] Her research has been funded by the Medical Research Council, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC),[13][35] the Wellcome Trust, and the European Union.

Doctoral students and postdocs[edit]

Thornton has supervised several PhD[36] and postdoctoral researchers including Sarah Teichmann[6] and David Jones.[5]

Awards and honours[edit]

Thornton was elected Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1999.[37] She became a member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) in 2000,[1] a foreign associate of the US National Academy of Sciences in 2003, and a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (FMedSci) in 2014. Thornton is a supernumerary fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge.[8][38] She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (FRSC) in 2017.[39] Thornton's nomination for the Royal Society reads

Janet Thornton is distinguished for her contribution to understanding protein three-dimensional structure: her perceptive comparative studies have led to the development of algorithms that are used to analyse and make predictions of supersecondary and tertiary structure. In the 1970s at Oxford (with M J Sternberg) she established clear and useful rules for the handedness of B-a-B units and demonstrated valid methods for prediction of the ordering of strands in B-sheets. At Birkbeck she developed this work to define families of conformations in B-hairpins and aB-links where the structures had previously been assumed at random. She has made the most comprehensive and useful analyses of tertiary interactions of protein sidechains, leading to an atlas that is valuable for protein and ligand design. The atlas is used widely in both academia and the pharmaceutical industry. At University College she has developed studies of sidechain conformation and stereochemistry into a procedure, PROCHECK, for evaluating the quality of experimentally defined protein structures: this is used widely to check protein structures. She has presented a method, known as threading, which gives strong evidence about tertiary structure for a protein sequence which is not obviously homologous to any other known structure.[40]

Her citation on election to the Academy of Medical Sciences reads:

Dame Janet Thornton is Director of the European Bioinformatics Institute and is a world leader in bioinformatics. She has contributed significantly to medical science by increasing our fundamental understanding of the structure of proteins and how they contribute to disease and ageing. The tools and databases she has developed are used worldwide for basic research, in academia and also in pharmaceutical companies. As Director of the EBI, she has been responsible for strategic developments related to the impact of the life sciences data on medical science. She is actively pursuing the challenge of how to join up biological and medical data in the UK and building tools which will facilitate the exploitation of these data for research and in the clinic.[41]

Thornton was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2000 and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2012 Birthday Honours for services to bioinformatics.[42] The Times named Thornton number 86 of their "Eureka 100" British scientists in 2010.[43] She was awarded the Suffrage Science award in 2011.[3]


  1. ^ a b Anon (2000). "The EMBO Pocket Directory" (PDF). European Molecular Biology Organization. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 March 2015.
  2. ^ a b Zagorski, N. (2005). "Profile of Janet M. Thornton". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 102 (35): 12296–12298. Bibcode:2005PNAS..10212296Z. doi:10.1073/pnas.0505819102. PMC 1194944. PMID 16118281. Open access icon
  3. ^ a b "Honour and heirloom for Sarah Teichmann". 9 March 2012.
  4. ^ a b Janet Thornton publications indexed by Google Scholar Edit this at Wikidata
  5. ^ a b Jones, D. T.; Taylor, W. R.; Thornton, J. M. (1992). "A new approach to protein fold recognition". Nature. 358 (6381): 86–89. Bibcode:1992Natur.358...86J. doi:10.1038/358086a0. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 1614539. S2CID 4266346.
  6. ^ a b c Marx, V. (2014). "The Author File: Janet Thornton". Nature Methods. 11 (2): 115. doi:10.1038/nmeth.2831. PMID 24645189. S2CID 1970327.
  7. ^ Teichmann, S. A.; Rison, S. C.; Thornton, J. M.; Riley, M; Gough, J; Chothia, C (2001). "The evolution and structural anatomy of the small molecule metabolic pathways in Escherichia coli". Journal of Molecular Biology. 311 (4): 693–708. CiteSeerX doi:10.1006/jmbi.2001.4912. PMID 11518524.
  8. ^ a b c d Anon (2015). "Thornton, Dame Janet (M.)". Who's Who (online Oxford University Press ed.). A & C Black. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.U37638. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  9. ^ a b Thomson, David (27 September 2013). "Top scientist tells Bury Grammar School pupils: 'follow your dreams'". burytimes.co.uk. Bury Times.
  10. ^ Pearl, F. M.; Bennett, C. F.; Bray, J. E.; Harrison, A. P.; Martin, N; Shepherd, A; Sillitoe, I; Thornton, J; Orengo, C. A. (2003). "The CATH database: An extended protein family resource for structural and functional genomics". Nucleic Acids Research. 31 (1): 452–5. doi:10.1093/nar/gkg062. PMC 165509. PMID 12520050.
  11. ^ a b c Crosswell, L. C.; Thornton, J. M. (2012). "ELIXIR: A distributed infrastructure for European biological data". Trends in Biotechnology. 30 (5): 241–242. doi:10.1016/j.tibtech.2012.02.002. PMID 22417641.
  12. ^ "Professor Dame Janet Thornton: Director, European Bioinformatics Institute". Archived from the original on 9 June 2013.
  13. ^ a b "Great British bioscience pioneers – Professor Dame Janet Thornton". Archived from the original on 9 February 2015.
  14. ^ Janet Thornton publications from Europe PubMed Central
  15. ^ Dean, Caroline; Osborn, Mary; Oshlack, Alicia; Thornton, Janet (2012). "Women in Science". Genome Biology. 13 (3): 148–201. doi:10.1186/gb4005. PMC 3439960. PMID 22405408.
  16. ^ "Thornton Research Group Page". Archived from the original on 18 April 2011.
  17. ^ Search Results for author Thornton JM on PubMed.
  18. ^ Thornton, Janet (1975). The conformation of dinucleotides (PhD thesis). King's College London. OCLC 731231069. ProQuest 301309997.
  19. ^ Thornton, J. M.; Bayley, P. M. (1976). "Conformational energy calculations for dinucleotide molecules. A systematic study of dinucleotide conformation, with application to diadenosine pyrophosphate". Biopolymers. 15 (5): 955–975. doi:10.1002/bip.1976.360150511. PMID 177120. S2CID 30211950.
  20. ^ Perkins, W. J.; Piper, E. A.; Thornton, J. (1976). "Computer techniques for conformational studies of biological molecules". Computers in Biology and Medicine. 6 (1): 23–31. doi:10.1016/0010-4825(76)90034-2. PMID 1253578.
  21. ^ "Janet Thornton steps down". European Bioinformatics Institute. 30 June 2015. Archived from the original on 3 July 2015.
  22. ^ "ISMB/ECCB 2004". www.iscb.org.
  23. ^ Laskowski, R. A.; MacArthur, M. W.; Moss, D. S.; Thornton, J. M. (1993). "PROCHECK: A program to check the stereochemical quality of protein structures". Journal of Applied Crystallography. 26 (2): 283–291. Bibcode:1993JApCr..26..283L. doi:10.1107/S0021889892009944.
  24. ^ Orengo, C. A.; Michie, A. D.; Jones, S.; Jones, D. T.; Swindells, M. B.; Thornton, J. M. (1997). "CATH – a hierarchic classification of protein domain structures". Structure. 5 (8): 1093–1109. doi:10.1016/S0969-2126(97)00260-8. PMID 9309224.
  25. ^ Sibanda, B. L.; Blundell, T. L.; Thornton, J. M. (1989). "Conformation of beta-hairpins in protein structures. A systematic classification with applications to modelling by homology, electron density fitting and protein engineering". Journal of Molecular Biology. 206 (4): 759–77. doi:10.1016/0022-2836(89)90583-4. PMID 2500530.
  26. ^ Thornton, J. M.; Singh, J; Campbell, S; Blundell, T. L. (1988). "Protein-protein recognition via side-chain interactions". Biochemical Society Transactions. 16 (6): 927–30. doi:10.1042/bst0160927. PMID 3224756.
  27. ^ Blundell, T. L.; Sibanda, B. L.; Sternberg, M. J.; Thornton, J. M. (1987). "Knowledge-based prediction of protein structures and the design of novel molecules". Nature. 326 (6111): 347–52. Bibcode:1987Natur.326..347B. doi:10.1038/326347a0. PMID 3550471. S2CID 4330510.
  28. ^ Janet Thornton publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (subscription required)
  29. ^ Blundell, T; Barlow, D; Borkakoti, N; Thornton, J (1983). "Solvent-induced distortions and the curvature of alpha-helices". Nature. 306 (5940): 281–3. Bibcode:1983Natur.306..281B. doi:10.1038/306281a0. PMID 6646210. S2CID 4331613.
  30. ^ Reeves, G. A.; Eilbeck, K.; Magrane, M.; O'Donovan, C.; Montecchi-Palazzi, L.; Harris, M. A.; Orchard, S.; Jimenez, R. C.; Prlic, A.; Hubbard, T. J. P.; Hermjakob, H.; Thornton, J. M. (2008). "The Protein Feature Ontology: A tool for the unification of protein feature annotations". Bioinformatics. 24 (23): 2767–2772. doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/btn528. PMC 2912506. PMID 18936051.
  31. ^ Rahman, S. A.; Cuesta, S. M.; Furnham, N.; Holliday, G. L.; Thornton, J. M. (2014). "EC-BLAST: A tool to automatically search and compare enzyme reactions". Nature Methods. 11 (2): 171–4. doi:10.1038/nmeth.2803. PMC 4122987. PMID 24412978.
  32. ^ a b Rahman, Syed Asad; Cuesta, Sergio Martinez; Furnham, Nicholas; Holliday, Gemma L.; Thornton, Janet M. (1 February 2014). "EC-BLAST: a tool to automatically search and compare enzyme reactions". Nature Methods. 11 (2): 171–174. doi:10.1038/nmeth.2803. ISSN 1548-7091. PMC 4122987. PMID 24412978.
  33. ^ Rahman, Syed Asad; Torrance, Gilliean; Baldacci, Lorenzo; Martínez Cuesta, Sergio; Fenninger, Franz; Gopal, Nimish; Choudhary, Saket; May, John W.; Holliday, Gemma L. (1 July 2016). "Reaction Decoder Tool (RDT): extracting features from chemical reactions". Bioinformatics. 32 (13): 2065–2066. doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/btw096. ISSN 1367-4811. PMC 4920114. PMID 27153692.
  34. ^ "ELIXIR's leadership: Governance in ELIXIR's construction phase". Archived from the original on 14 October 2013.
  35. ^ "UK Government Grants awarded to Janet Thornton". Research Councils UK. Archived from the original on 10 March 2015.
  36. ^ Anon (2014). "Publications EMBL-EBI PhD Theses". Archived from the original on 4 March 2014.
  37. ^ "Why Prof. Thornton was awarded the FRS". London: Royal Society. Archived from the original on 12 November 2007.
  38. ^ "Professor Dame Janet Thornton PhD, CBE, FRS, DBE, Churchill College, Cambridge". Archived from the original on 10 March 2015.
  39. ^ "Our Honorary Fellows". Royal Society of Chemistry. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  40. ^ "EC/1999/34: Thornton, Janet M". London: The Royal Society. Archived from the original on 15 April 2013.
  41. ^ "Professor Dame Janet Thornton DBE FRS FMedSci". Academy of Medical Sciences. Archived from the original on 10 March 2015.
  42. ^ "No. 60173". The London Gazette (Supplement). 16 June 2012. p. 6.
  43. ^ "Eureka 100: the people that matter". thetimes.co.uk. London: The Times.
Academic offices
Preceded by
Michael Ashburner
Graham Cameron
Director of the European Bioinformatics Institute
Succeeded by