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John Gurdon

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John Gurdon
Sir John Gurdon in 2012
John Bertrand Gurdon

(1933-10-02) 2 October 1933 (age 90)
Dippenhall, Surrey, England
Alma materEton College
Christ Church, Oxford
Known forNuclear transfer, cloning
AwardsPaul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize (1977)
William Bate Hardy Prize (1984)
Royal Medal (1985)
International Prize for Biology (1987)
Wolf Prize in Medicine (1989)
Edwin Grant Conklin Medal (2001)
Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award (2009)
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (2012)
Scientific career
FieldsBiology and Developmental Biology
InstitutionsUniversity of Oxford
MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology
University of Cambridge
California Institute of Technology
ThesisNuclear transplantation in Xenopus (1960)
Doctoral advisorMichail Fischberg[1]
Doctoral studentsDouglas A. Melton
Edward M. De Robertis

Sir John Bertrand Gurdon FRS (born 2 October 1933) is a British developmental biologist, best known for his pioneering research in nuclear transplantation[2][3][4] and cloning.[1][5][6][7]

Awarded the Lasker Award in 2009, in 2012, he and Shinya Yamanaka were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for the discovery that mature cells can be converted to stem cells.[8]


Gurdon attended Edgeborough prep school before Eton College, where he ranked last out of the 250 boys in his year group at biology, and was in the bottom set in every other science subject.[9] A schoolmaster wrote a report stating, "I believe he has ideas about becoming a scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous."[10][11][12] Gurdon explains it is the only document he ever framed; he also told a reporter: "When you have problems like an experiment doesn't work, which often happens, it's nice to remind yourself that perhaps after all you are not so good at this job and the schoolmaster may have been right!"[13]

Gurdon went up to Christ Church, Oxford, to read classics then switched to zoology, graduating as MA. For his DPhil degree he studied nuclear transplantation in a frog species of the genus Xenopus,[14][15] supervised by Dr Michail Fischberg at Oxford University.[16] After pursuing further postdoctoral work at Caltech,[17] he returned to England where his early posts were in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford (1962–71).[18]

Gurdon spent much of his research career at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (1971–83) and then in the Department of Zoology (1983–present). In 1989, he became a founding member of the Wellcome/CRC Institute for Cell Biology and Cancer (later Wellcome/CR UK) at Cambridge, becoming its chairman until 2001. He served as a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics 1991–1995, then Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, from 1995 to 2002.

Gurdon married Jean Elizabeth Margaret Curtis, by whom he has a son and a daughter.[19]


A video from an open-access article co-authored by Gurdon:[20] Animal view of different embryos developing in Xenopus laevis eggs: a diploid laevis x laevis is shown on the top, cleaving and entering gastrulation about 50 min earlier than haploid [laevis] x laevis (middle) and [laevis] x tropicalis cybrid (bottom) embryos.

Nuclear transfer[edit]

In 1958, Gurdon, then at the University of Oxford, successfully cloned a frog using intact nuclei from the somatic cells of a Xenopus tadpole.[21][22] This work was an important extension of work of Briggs and King in 1952 on transplanting nuclei from embryonic blastula cells[23] and the successful induction of polyploidy in the stickleback, Gasterosteus aculatus, in 1956 by Har Swarup reported in Nature.[24] At that time he could not conclusively show that the transplanted nuclei derived from a fully differentiated cell. This was finally shown in 1975 by a group working at the Basel Institute for Immunology in Switzerland.[25] They transplanted a nucleus from an antibody-producing lymphocyte (proof that it was fully differentiated) into an enucleated egg and obtained living tadpoles.

Gurdon's experiments captured the attention of the scientific community as it altered the notion of development and the tools and techniques he developed for nuclear transfer are still used today. The term clone[26] (from the ancient Greek word κλών (klōn, "twig")) had already been in use since the beginning of the 20th century in reference to plants. In 1963 the British biologist J. B. S. Haldane, in describing Gurdon's results, became one of the first to use the word "clone" in reference to animals.

Messenger RNA expression[edit]

Gurdon and colleagues also pioneered the use of Xenopus (genus of highly aquatic frog) eggs and oocytes to translate microinjected messenger RNA molecules,[27] a technique which has been widely used to identify the proteins encoded and to study their function.

Recent research[edit]

Gurdon's recent research has focused on analysing intercellular signalling factors involved in cell differentiation, and on elucidating the mechanisms involved in reprogramming the nucleus in transplantation experiments, including the role of histone variants,[28][29] and demethylation of the transplanted DNA.[30]

Politics and religion[edit]

Gurdon has stated that he is politically "middle of the road", and religiously agnostic because "there is no scientific proof either way". During his time as Master of Magdalene, Gurdon caused some controversy by suggesting that Fellows might occasionally be allowed to deliver "an address on anything they would like to talk about" in college chapel services.[31] In an interview with EWTN.com, Gurdon declared "I'm what you might call liberal-minded. I'm not a Roman Catholic. I'm a Christian, of the Church of England."[32]

Honours and awards[edit]

Gurdon was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1971, before appointment as Knight Bachelor in 1995.

Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1978,[33] the United States National Academy of Sciences in 1980,[34] and the American Philosophical Society in 1983, since 2005 he has been an Honorary Member of the American Association of Anatomists.[35]

In 2004, the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Institute for Cell Biology and Cancer was renamed the Gurdon Institute[36] in his honour. He was awarded the 2009 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award and in 2014 delivered the Harveian Oration at the Royal College of Physicians.[37] In 2017, Gurdon received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.[38] A Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (FMedSci) and Fellow of the Zoological Society (FZS), he has received honorary doctorates including Hon DSc (Oxon) and Hon ScD (Cantab) as well as many other awards and medals.[17]

Nobel Prize[edit]

In 2012, Gurdon was awarded, jointly with Shinya Yamanaka, the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine "for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent".[39] His Nobel Lecture was called "The Egg and the Nucleus: A Battle for Supremacy".

Insignia of a Knight Bachelor


  1. ^ a b Williams, R. (2008). "Sir John Gurdon: Godfather of cloning". The Journal of Cell Biology. 181 (2): 178–179. doi:10.1083/jcb.1812pi. PMC 2315664. PMID 18426972.
  2. ^ Gurdon, J. B.; Byrne, J. A. (2003). "The first half-century of nuclear transplantation". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 100 (14): 8048–8052. Bibcode:2003PNAS..100.8048G. doi:10.1073/pnas.1337135100. PMC 166179. PMID 12821779.
  3. ^ Gurdon, J. B. (2006). "From Nuclear Transfer to Nuclear Reprogramming: The Reversal of Cell Differentiation". Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology. 22: 1–22. doi:10.1146/annurev.cellbio.22.090805.140144. PMID 16704337. S2CID 6185731.
  4. ^ Gurdon, J. B.; Melton, D. A. (2008). "Nuclear Reprogramming in Cells". Science. 322 (5909): 1811–1815. Bibcode:2008Sci...322.1811G. doi:10.1126/science.1160810. PMID 19095934.
  5. ^ Kain, K. (2009). "The birth of cloning: An interview with John Gurdon". Disease Models and Mechanisms. 2 (1–2): 9–10. doi:10.1242/dmm.002014. PMC 2615171. PMID 19132124.
  6. ^ Gurdon, J. (2003). "John Gurdon". Current Biology. 13 (19): R759–R760. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2003.09.015. PMID 14521852. S2CID 12271157.
  7. ^ Gurdon, J. (2000). "Not a total waste of time. An interview with John Gurdon. Interview by James C Smith". The International Journal of Developmental Biology. 44 (1): 93–99. PMID 10761853.
  8. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine – 2012 Press Release". Nobel Media AB. 8 October 2012.
  9. ^ "Sir John Gurdon Biography and Interview". achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  10. ^ "Sir John B. Gurdon – Biographical". nobelprize.org. Retrieved 3 June 2017.
  11. ^ Gurdon Institute (25 August 2016), Gurdon Institute | John Gurdon's 'Journey of a lifetime' lecture, March 2016, retrieved 3 June 2017
  12. ^ "None of us should ever be written off". Western Gazette. 18 October 2012. Archived from the original on 30 November 2012. Retrieved 24 October 2012.
  13. ^ Collins, Nick (8 October 2012). "Sir John Gurdon, Nobel Prize winner, was 'too stupid' for science at school". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  14. ^ Nuclear transplantation in Xenopus (Thesis). Thesis DPhil—University of Oxford. 1960.
  15. ^ Gurdon, John (1961). Studies on nucleocytoplasmic relationships during differentiation in vertebrates (DPhil thesis). University of Oxford.(subscription required)
  16. ^ www.zoo.cam.ac.uk
  17. ^ a b Rodney Porter Lectures: Biography
  18. ^ www.chch.ox.ac.uk
  19. ^ www.burkespeerage.com
  20. ^ Narbonne, P.; Simpson, D. E.; Gurdon, J. B. (2011). Misteli, Tom (ed.). "Deficient Induction Response in a Xenopus Nucleocytoplasmic Hybrid". PLOS Biology. 9 (11): e1001197. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001197. PMC 3217020. PMID 22131902.
  21. ^ Gurdon, J. B.; Elsdale, T. R.; Fischberg, M. (1958). "Sexually Mature Individuals of Xenopus laevis from the Transplantation of Single Somatic Nuclei". Nature. 182 (4627): 64–65. Bibcode:1958Natur.182...64G. doi:10.1038/182064a0. PMID 13566187. S2CID 4254765.
  22. ^ Gurdon, J. B. (1962). "The developmental capacity of nuclei taken from intestinal epithelium cells of feeding tadpoles". Journal of Embryology and Experimental Morphology. 10: 622–640. PMID 13951335.
  23. ^ Robert Briggs and Thomas J. King (May 1952). "Transplantation of Living Nuclei From Blastula Cells into Enucleated Frogs' Eggs". Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 38 (5): 455–463. Bibcode:1952PNAS...38..455B. doi:10.1073/pnas.38.5.455. PMC 1063586. PMID 16589125.
  24. ^ Swarup H. Production of heteroploidy in the three-spined stickle back (Gasterosteus aculeatus L) Nature in 1956;178:1124–1125. doi: 10.1038/1781124a0; http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v178/n4542/abs/1781124a0.html
  25. ^ Wabl, M. R.; Brun, R. B.; Du Pasquier, L. (1975). "Lymphocytes of the toad Xenopus laevis have the gene set for promoting tadpole development". Science. 190 (4221): 1310–1312. Bibcode:1975Sci...190.1310W. doi:10.1126/science.1198115. PMID 1198115. S2CID 23153308.
  26. ^ Gurdon, J. B.; Colman, A. (1999). "The future of cloning". Nature. 402 (6763): 743–746. Bibcode:1999Natur.402..743G. doi:10.1038/45429. PMID 10617195. S2CID 4302017.
  27. ^ Gurdon, J. B.; Lane, C. D.; Woodland, H. R.; Marbaix, G. (1971). "Use of Frog Eggs and Oocytes for the Study of Messenger RNA and its Translation in Living Cells". Nature. 233 (5316): 177–182. Bibcode:1971Natur.233..177G. doi:10.1038/233177a0. PMID 4939175. S2CID 4160808.
  28. ^ Jullien, J.; Astrand, C.; Halley-Stott, R. P.; Garrett, N.; Gurdon, J. B. (2010). "Characterization of somatic cell nuclear reprogramming by oocytes in which a linker histone is required for pluripotency gene reactivation". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 107 (12): 5483–5488. Bibcode:2010PNAS..107.5483J. doi:10.1073/pnas.1000599107. PMC 2851752. PMID 20212135.
  29. ^ Pasque, V.; Gillich, A.; Garrett, N.; Gurdon, J. B. (2011). "Histone variant macroH2A confers resistance to nuclear reprogramming". The EMBO Journal. 30 (12): 2373–2387. doi:10.1038/emboj.2011.144. PMC 3116279. PMID 21552206.
  30. ^ Simonsson, S.; Gurdon, J. (2004). "DNA demethylation is necessary for the epigenetic reprogramming of somatic cell nuclei". Nature Cell Biology. 6 (10): 984–990. doi:10.1038/ncb1176. PMID 15448701. S2CID 23201099.
  31. ^ Johnny Michael (11 October 2012). "John Gurdon on ethics, politics, religion, and anti-theism". upublish.info. Archived from the original on 28 March 2013.
  32. ^ Ann Schneible (4 December 2013). "Nobel Prize Winner Participates at Vatican Conference".
  33. ^ "John Bertrand Gurdon". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 25 May 2022.
  34. ^ "John B. Gurdon". www.nasonline.org. Retrieved 25 May 2022.
  35. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 25 May 2022.
  36. ^ "The Gurdon Institute". Retrieved 26 July 2011.
  37. ^ "2014 – Event listing from April onwards". Royal College of Physicians. Archived from the original on 7 June 2010. Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  38. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  39. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2012". NobelPrize.org. 8 October 2012. Retrieved 8 October 2012.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by Fullerian Professor of Physiology
Succeeded by
Preceded by Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge
Succeeded by