Jean Thomas (biochemist)

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Dame Jean Thomas
38th Master of St Catharine's College, Cambridge
In office
Preceded by David S. Ingram

Dame Jean Olwen Thomas, DBE, FMedSci, FLSW, FRS (born 1 October 1942) is a Welsh biochemist and former Master of St Catharine's College, Cambridge.[1]


She was born in Treboeth, Swansea to John Robert and Lorna (née Harris) Thomas, attended Llwyn-y-Bryn High School for Girls and then studied chemistry at the University of Wales, gaining a first class B.Sc. in 1964 and a Ph.D. in 1967 with thesis titled Hydroxyl-carbonyl interaction in cyclic peptides and depsipeptides.[2] She has been at Cambridge since 1967, where she was initially at Darwin College from 1967 to 1969. She was then made a Fellow of New Hall and Professor of Macromolecular Biochemistry at the university, where she led a team studying the structure and dynamics of chromatin (the complex of proteins and DNA that constitutes chromosomes) and its role in the repression and activation of genes.

Thomas was the first female Master of St Catharine's College, which was founded in 1473 by Robert Woodlark and is the ninth oldest Cambridge college. The Master is elected by the President and Fellows of the College. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1986[3] and became a Governor of the Wellcome Trust Ltd. in October 2000.[4] She is currently the Biological Secretary and Vice-President of the Royal Society.[5] She is also a Founding Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales.

She is an elected Member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) and of the Academia Europaea. She has served as a Member of the Council and Scientific Advisory Committee of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, Scientific Advisory Committee of The Lister Institute for Preventative Medicine, and as a Trustee of the British Museum.

On 31 December 2004, Thomas was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for services to biochemistry.[6]

In 2014 she was elected as the second President of the Royal Society of Biology, succeeding Nancy Rothwell [7]


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Academic offices
Preceded by
David Ingram
Master of St Catharine's College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Nancy Rothwell
President of the Royal Society of Biology