Russell Foster

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Russell Foster

Russell G Foster - EdSciFest 2014 (20).JPG
Born (1959-08-19) 19 August 1959 (age 62)
Alma materUniversity of Bristol
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Ann Downes
AwardsHonma Prize (Japan), David G. Cogan Award (USA), Zoological Society Scientific and Edridge-Green Medals (UK)
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Oxford
ThesisAn investigation of the extraretinal photoreceptors mediating photoperiodic induction in the Japanese quail (Coturnix coturnix japonica) (1978)
Academic advisorsBrian Follett

Russell Grant Foster, CBE, FRS FMedSci (born 1959)[1] is a British professor of circadian neuroscience, the Director of the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology and the Head of the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute (SCNi).[2][3] He is also a Nicholas Kurti Senior Fellow at Brasenose College[4] at the University of Oxford.[5] Foster and his group are credited with key contributions to the discovery of the non-rod, non-cone, photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (pRGCs) in the mammalian retina which provide input to the circadian rhythm system. He has written and co-authored over a hundred scientific publications.[5]



Foster attended Heron Wood School in his native Aldershot and studied at the University of Bristol and graduated with a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Zoology in 1980. He also carried out postgraduate studies at the University of Bristol under the supervision of Brian Follett, and was awarded a PhD in 1984 for his thesis entitled An investigation of the extraretinal photoreceptors mediating photoperiodic induction in the Japanese quail (Coturnix coturnix japonica).[6][7]


From 1988 to 1995 Foster was a member of the National Science Foundation Center for Biological Rhythms at the University of Virginia, where he worked closely with Michael Menaker.[3] In 1995, he returned to UK and started his own lab at Imperial College, where he became Chair of Molecular Neuroscience within the Faculty of Medicine. He later transferred his laboratory to the University of Oxford to engage in more translational research.[8]

Scientific works[edit]

Transplanted suprachiasmatic nucleus determines circadian period[edit]

While at the University of Virginia, Foster and Menaker performed experiments where the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) was tested by neural transplantation of donor's SCN to a recipient with an ablated SCN. In the experiment, the donor was a mutant strain of hamster with a shortened circadian period. The recipient was a wild-type hamster. Transplantation was done the other way around as well, with wild-type hamster as the donor and mutant strain hamster as the recipient. After the transplantation, the formerly wild-type hamster displayed a shortened period which resembled the mutant, and the mutant-strain hamster showed normal period. The SCN restored rhythm to arrhythmic recipients, which afterwards always exhibited the circadian period of the donor. This result led to the conclusion that the SCN is sufficient and necessary for mammalian circadian rhythms.[9]

Rods and cones unnecessary for entrainment[edit]

In 1991, Foster and his colleagues provided evidence that rods and cones are not necessary for entrainment of an animal to light.[10] In this experiment, Foster gave light pulses to retinally degenerative mice. These mice were homozygous for the rd allele and were shown to have no rods in their retina. Only a few cones were found to remain in the retina. To study the effects of light entrainment, magnitude of phase shift of locomotor activity was measured. The results showed that both mice with normal retina and mice with degenerate retina showed similar entrainment patterns. Foster hypothesized that circadian photoreception occurs with a small number of cones without an outer layer or that an unrecognised class of photoreceptive cells are present.

In 1999, Foster studied light entrainment on mice without cones or both rods and cones.[11] Mice without cones or without both photoreceptive cells (rd/rd cl allele) still entrained to light. Meanwhile, mice with eyes removed could not entrain to light. Foster concluded that rods and cones are unnecessary for entrainment to light, and that the murine eye contains additional photoreceptive cell types. Later studies showed that melanopsin expressing photoreceptive retinal ganglion cells (pGRCs) were accountable for non-rod, non-cone entrainment to light.[12][13]

Literary works[edit]

He is the co-author with writer and broadcaster Leon Kreitzman of two popular science books on circadian rhythms, Rhythms of Life: The Biological Clocks that Control the Daily Lives of Every Living Thing[14][15] and Seasons of Life: The Biological Rhythms That Enable Living Things to Thrive and Survive.[16] He has also co-written a book titled Sleep: a Very Short Introduction.[17]

Awards and honours[edit]

Foster was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 2008.[2]

Foster was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to science.[18][19]

Russell Foster was awarded with The Daylight Award 2020 in the category Daylight Research, for his clinical studies in humans addressing important questions regarding light.

Notable awards[edit]

Foster has received recognition from around the world for his discovery of pRGCs:

  • Honma Prize (Japan, 1997)[20]
  • David G. Cogan Award (USA, 2001)[21]
  • Zoological Society Scientific Medal (UK, 2000)[22]
  • Edridge Green Medal (Royal College of Ophthalmologists, UK, 2005)[22]
  • The Daylight Award 2020, for Daylight Research


  1. ^ Footprint, Professor. "Dellam Corporate Information Limited, England".
  2. ^ a b "Russell Foster | Royal Society". The Royal Society. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  3. ^ a b "Russell Foster – Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences". University of Oxford. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  4. ^ Professor Russell Foster, Brasenose College
  5. ^ a b "Russell Foster, BSc, PhD, FRS". Oxford Neuroscience. The Medical Sciences Division, University of Oxford. 2008. Retrieved 24 January 2010.
  6. ^ Foster, R. G.; Follett, B. K.; Lythgoe, J. N. (1985). "Rhodopsin-like sensitivity of extra-retinal photoreceptors mediating the photoperiodic response in quail". Nature. 313 (5997): 50–52. Bibcode:1985Natur.313...50F. doi:10.1038/313050a0. PMID 3965970. S2CID 4257141.
  7. ^ Konishi, H.; Foster, R. G.; Follett, B. K. (1987). "Evidence for a daily rhythmicity in the acute release of luteinizing hormone in response to electrical stimulation in the Japanese quail". Journal of Comparative Physiology A. 161 (2): 315–319. doi:10.1007/BF00615251. PMID 3625579. S2CID 1689119.
  8. ^ "Professor Russell Foster | University of Oxford". University of Oxford. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  9. ^ Ralph, M. R.; Foster, R. G.; Davis, F. C.; Menaker, M. (23 February 1990). "Transplanted suprachiasmatic nucleus determines circadian period". Science. 247 (4945): 975–978. Bibcode:1990Sci...247..975R. doi:10.1126/science.2305266. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 2305266.
  10. ^ Foster, R. G.; Provencio, I.; Hudson, D.; Fiske, S.; De Grip, W.; Menaker, M. (1 July 1991). "Circadian photoreception in the retinally degenerate mouse (rd/rd)". Journal of Comparative Physiology A. 169 (1): 39–50. doi:10.1007/bf00198171. PMID 1941717. S2CID 1124159.
  11. ^ Lucas, R. J.; Freedman, M. S.; Muñoz, M.; Garcia-Fernández, J. M.; Foster, R. G. (16 April 1999). "Regulation of the mammalian pineal by non-rod, non-cone, ocular photoreceptors". Science. 284 (5413): 505–507. Bibcode:1999Sci...284..505L. doi:10.1126/science.284.5413.505. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 10205062.
  12. ^ Ruby, Norman F.; Brennan, Thomas J.; Xie, Xinmin; Cao, Vinh; Franken, Paul; Heller, H. Craig; O'Hara, Bruce F. (13 December 2002). "Role of Melanopsin in Circadian Responses to Light". Science. 298 (5601): 2211–2213. Bibcode:2002Sci...298.2211R. doi:10.1126/science.1076701. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 12481140. S2CID 39565298.
  13. ^ Hattar, S.; Liao, H.-W.; Takao, M.; Berson, D. M.; Yau, K.-W. (8 February 2002). "Melanopsin-Containing Retinal Ganglion Cells: Architecture, Projections, and Intrinsic Photosensitivity". Science. 295 (5557): 1065–1070. Bibcode:2002Sci...295.1065H. doi:10.1126/science.1069609. ISSN 0036-8075. PMC 2885915. PMID 11834834.
  14. ^ Leon Kreitzman; Russell G. Foster (2004). Rhythms of life: the biological clocks that control the daily lives of every living thing. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-10969-6.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ Harman, Oren (24 December 2008). "Time After Time" (Book Review). The New Republic. Retrieved 5 July 2009.
  16. ^ Leon Kreitzman; Russell G. Foster (2009). Seasons of Life: The Biological Rhythms That Enable Living Things to Thrive and Survive. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-11556-7.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  17. ^ Stephen W. Lockley, Russell G. Foster (2012). Sleep: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford: OUP Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19958-785-8.
  18. ^ "No. 61092". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2014. p. N9.
  19. ^ "2015 New Year Honours List" (PDF).
  20. ^ "一般財団法人アショフ・ホンマ記念財団". Retrieved 14 April 2017.
  21. ^ Besharse, Joseph (2002). "Introduction of Russell G. Foster, the 2001 Recipient of the David G. Cogan Award". Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 43.
  22. ^ a b "Professor Russell Foster". Brasenose College, University of Oxford.

External links[edit]