Tim Hunt

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Sir Tim Hunt
Tim Hunt at UCSF 05 2009 (4).jpg
Tim Hunt at UCSF in May 2009
Born Richard Timothy Hunt
(1943-02-19) 19 February 1943 (age 72)[1]
Neston, Cheshire, England
Residence England
Citizenship United Kingdom
Fields Cell cycle[2]
Alma mater
Thesis The synthesis of haemoglobin (1969)
Doctoral students Matthew Cockerill[3]
Known for Cell cycle regulation
Notable awards
Spouse Mary Collins (m. 1995)[1]
Children 2 daughters

Sir Richard Timothy "Tim" Hunt FRSFMedSci (born 19 February 1943) is a British biochemist.[4] He was awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Paul Nurse and Leland H. Hartwell for their discoveries of protein molecules that control the division (duplication) of cells.[5][6][7][8]

Early life and education[edit]

Hunt was born on 19 February 1943[1] in Neston, Cheshire, to Richard William Hunt, a lecturer in palaeography in Liverpool, and Kit Rowland, daughter of a timber merchant.[9] After the death of both his parents, Hunt found his father had worked at Bush House, most likely in intelligence, although it is not known what he actually did.[9] In 1945, Richard became Keeper of the Western Manuscripts at the Bodleian Library, and the family relocated to Oxford. At the age of eight, Tim was accepted into the Dragon School,[1] where he first developed an interest in biology thanks to his German teacher, Gerd Sommerhoff.[9] When he was fourteen, he moved to Magdalen College School, Oxford, where the science prizes now bear his name, becoming even more interested in science and studying subjects such as chemistry and zoology.[9]

In 1961, he was accepted into Clare College, Cambridge to study Natural Sciences, graduating in 1964 and immediately beginning work in the university Department of Biochemistry under Asher Korner.[9] There, he worked with scientists such as Louis Reichardt and Tony Hunter.[9] A 1965 talk by Vernon Ingram interested him in haemoglobin synthesis, and at a Greek conference in 1966 on the subject, he persuaded Irving London to allow him to work in his laboratory in New York, staying from July to October 1966.[9] He finished his PhD in 1968.[10]


Following his PhD, Hunt returned to New York to work with London, in collaboration with Nechama and Edward Kosower and Ellie Ehrenfeld. While there, they discovered that tiny amounts of glutathione inhibited protein synthesis in reticulocytes and that tiny amounts of RNA killed the synthesis altogether. After returning to Cambridge, he again began work with Hunter and Richard Jackson, who had discovered the RNA strand used to start haemoglobin synthesis. After 3–4 years, the team discovered at least two other chemicals acting as inhibitors.[9]

During summer work in 1982 at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, using the sea urchin (Arbacia punctulata) egg as his model organism, he discovered the cyclin molecule.[9] Cyclins are proteins that play a key role in regulating the cell-division cycle.[5] Hunt found that cyclins begin to be synthesised after the eggs are fertilized and increase in levels during interphase, until they drop very quickly in the middle of mitosis in each cell division. He also found that cyclins are present in vertebrate cells, where they also regulate the cell cycle. He and others subsequently showed that cyclins bind and activate a family of protein kinases, now called the cyclin-dependent kinases, one of which had been identified as a crucial cell cycle regulator by Paul Nurse.

In 1990, he began work at Imperial Cancer Research Fund, now known as the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute in the United Kingdom.[11] He is a member of the Advisory Council for the Campaign for Science and Engineering.[12] He also sits on the Selection Committee for Life Science and Medicine, which chooses winners of the Shaw Prize.

Remarks about women in science[edit]

On 9 June 2015, Hunt gave a speech at the 2015 World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul, delivered at a lunch for female journalists and scientists, entitled "Creative Science—Only a Game?", in which he said:

Members of the audience tweeted the comments he had made, and he quickly became the subject of what The Observer described as a "particularly vicious social media campaign".[15]

A day later, 10 June, numerous media outlets reported the first half of Hunt's remarks and criticised them as "sexist".[16][17] Connie St Louis, the source for many of the journalists, gave only the first 37 words of the remark but said "he just ploughed on for about five to seven minutes."[18] On 9 June, the Royal Society formally distanced itself from Hunt's comments and emphasised its commitment to equality in the sciences.[19][20]

Hunt said his comments were meant to be "ironic" and "jocular".[15][21] University College London announced the next day that Hunt had resigned from his position as Honorary Professor with the UCL Faculty of Life Sciences.[22] On the same day, he also resigned from the Royal Society's Biological Sciences Awards Committee.[23] His wife Mary Collins, UCL Professor of immunology, said she "was told by a senior [at UCL] that Tim had to resign immediately or be sacked".[15] Hunt said the European Research Council (ERC) had also forced him to resign. Several female scientists and commentators defended Hunt. Dame Athene Donald, a professor of Physics and fellow of the Royal Society, said Hunt "was always immensely supportive of the ERC’s work around gender equality".[15]

On 15 June the London Evening Standard reported that the decision to ask Tim Hunt to resign from his honorary position at UCL was taken without any consultation with the Council, the university's governing body. The Council members would normally be consulted in a case of such gravitas and were reportedly furious at the decision.[24]

On 17 June 2015, the hosts of the lunch, the Korea Federation of Women's Science and Technology Associations (KOFWST) reported that their President, Hee Young Paik, had on their behalf asked for, and received, an apology from Hunt for remarks he made which "have caused great concern and regret in Korea".[25]

Physicist and broadcaster Brian Cox, speaking on BBC Radio 4's The World at One, criticised what he saw as the hounding out of Hunt as a disproportionate response to concerns over his comments, and part of a "wider problem of trial by social media".[26] The Times Higher Education satirically contrasted UCL's treatment of Hunt with that of Gennadij Raivich, who had continued to be employed by the university after being charged with, and later convicted of, sexual assault.[27][28]

In an interview in The Observer on 20 June 2015 it was reported that hundreds of female scientists had written to support Tim Hunt in the wake of the controversy generated by his comments, and that many top female scientists had testified to his support for women in science. Hunt also provided the context for his remarks to clarify that he was making a joke:

The Sunday Times reported on 21 June that UCL "may discuss reinstating Sir Tim Hunt to his honorary professorship at its next meeting [on 9 July 2015], after members expressed 'deep unhappiness' over his forced resignation".[30]

In a letter to The Times a group of 29 staff scientists, students and postdoctoral fellows, both male and female, who had worked with Tim Hunt, wrote in support of his character. They described how his help had been "instrumental in the advancement of many other women and men in science beyond those in his own lab" and how he had "actively encouraged an interest in science in schoolchildren and young scientists, arranging for work experience and summer students of both genders to get their first taste of research in his lab." They urged the ERC and UCL to "reconsider their rush to judgment".[31][32]

Awards and honours[edit]

Hunt was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1991 and a foreign associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 1999. In 2001, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Leland Hartwell and Sir Paul Nurse for their discoveries regarding cell cycle regulation by cyclin and cyclin-dependent kinases.[33] In 2006, he was awarded the Royal Medal for "discovering a key aspect of cell cycle control, the protein cyclin which is a component of cyclin dependent kinases, demonstrating his ability to grasp the significance of the result outside his immediate sphere of interest".[34] He was also knighted in the 2006 Birthday Honours, and has said that he rarely uses the title 'Sir' and that it should not affect his scientific standing.[35]

Personal life[edit]

Hunt is married to Mary Collins, who was also educated at the University of Cambridge. As of 2015, Collins is a professor of immunology at University College London.[36][37] They have two daughters.[1][36]


  1. ^ a b c d e HUNT, Sir Tim. Who's Who 2015 (online Oxford University Press ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc.  (subscription required)
  2. ^ Tim Hunt's publications indexed by Google Scholar, a free service provided by Google
  3. ^ Cockerill, Matthew James (1996). D-type cyclins in Xenopus laevis (PhD thesis). University of Cambridge. OCLC 557383637.  open access publication - free to read
  4. ^ "Sir Tim Hunt 'sorry' over 'trouble with girls' comments". BBC News. 
  5. ^ a b The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2001 Illustrated Lecture
  6. ^ Rouse, John; Cohen, Philip; Trigon, Sylviane; Morange, Michel; Alonso-Llamazares, Ana; Zamanillo, Daniel; Hunt, Tim; Nebreda, Angel R. (1994). "A novel kinase cascade triggered by stress and heat shock that stimulates MAPKAP kinase-2 and phosphorylation of the small heat shock proteins". Cell 78 (6): 1027–1037. doi:10.1016/0092-8674(94)90277-1. ISSN 0092-8674. 
  7. ^ Evans, Tom; Rosenthal, Eric T.; Youngblom, Jim; Distel, Dan; Hunt, Tim (1983). "Cyclin: A protein specified by maternal mRNA in sea urchin eggs that is destroyed at each cleavage division". Cell 33 (2): 389–396. doi:10.1016/0092-8674(83)90420-8. ISSN 0092-8674. 
  8. ^ Farrell, Paul J.; Balkow, Ken; Hunt, Tim; Jackson, Richard J.; Trachsel, Hans (1977). "Phosphorylation of initiation factor eIF-2 and the control of reticulocyte protein synthesis". Cell 11 (1): 187–200. doi:10.1016/0092-8674(77)90330-0. ISSN 0092-8674. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Tim Hunt – Autobiography". Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB. 2002. Retrieved 2008-11-13. 
  10. ^ Hunt, Richard Timothy (1969). The synthesis of haemoglobin (PhD thesis). University of Cambridge. OCLC 885437139. (subscription required)
  11. ^ "Cancer Research UK: Tim Hunt". Retrieved 2008-11-13. 
  12. ^ "Advisory Council of the Campaign for Science and Engineering". Retrieved 2011-02-11. 
  13. ^ Saul, Heather (24 June 2015). "Richard Dawkins demands apology from Sir Tim Hunt's critics and claims leaked transcript shows 'sexist' comments were 'light-hearted banter'". The Independent. Retrieved 24 June 2015. 
  14. ^ Radcliffe, Rebecca (10 June 2015). "Nobel scientist Tim Hunt: female scientists cause trouble for men in labs". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  15. ^ a b c d McKie, Robin (13 June 2015). "Tim Hunt: ‘I’ve been hung out to dry. They haven’t even bothered to ask for my side of affairs’". The Observer. Retrieved 14 June 2015 – via The Guardian. 
  16. ^ Greenberg, Alissa (10 June 2015). "A Nobel Scientist Just Made a Breathtakingly Sexist Speech atp International Conference". Time (New York City, New York). Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  17. ^ Tracy, Abigail (10 June 2015). "Nobel Laureate Tim Hunt Under Fire For Sexist Comments". Forbes. Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  18. ^ "Sir Tim Hunt 'sorry' over 'trouble with girls' comments". BBC. 10 June 2015. he just ploughed on for about five to seven minutes. 
    As quoted by:
    Sarah Harris/Guy Adams (28 June 2015). "University won't take back 'sexist' scientist: More Nobel winners back Sir Tim Hunt but ex-boss say gender equality comes first". Daily Mail. 
  19. ^ "Science needs women – Royal Society". 9 Jun 2015. Retrieved 10 Jun 2015. 
  20. ^ Anon (2015). "Sexism has no place in science". Nature 522 (7556): 255–255. doi:10.1038/522255a. ISSN 0028-0836. 
  21. ^ Grierson, Jamie (10 June 2015). "Tim Hunt apologises for comments on his 'trouble' with female scientists". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  22. ^ "Sir Tim Hunt FRS and UCL". UCL. 10 June 2015. Archived from the original on 2015-06-16. UCL was the first university in England to admit women students on equal terms to men, and the university believes that this outcome is compatible with our commitment to gender equality. 
  23. ^ Jump, Paul; Else, Holly. "Sir Tim Hunt resigns from two posts". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 12 June 2015. 
  24. ^ Londoner's Diary: Will Tim Hunt’s nemesis at UCL now stand up? London Evening Standard, 15 June 2015.
  25. ^ Korea Federation of Women's Science and Technology Associations. "Press release – Dr Tim Hunt, Official Apology for Sexist Remarks". Korea Federation of Women's Science and Technology Associations. Retrieved 17 June 2015. 
  26. ^ Press Association (16 June 2015). "Brian Cox criticises 'disproportionate' reaction to Tim Hunt's comments". Guardian. Retrieved 18 June 2015. 
  27. ^ Taylor, Laurie (18 June 2015). "Grab your ethics, the press are coming". Times Higher Education (2,208). p. 60. Retrieved 18 June 2015. 
  28. ^ Grove, Jack (14 August 2014). "University College London silent on fate of convicted professor". Times Higher Education (London). Retrieved 18 June 2015. 
  29. ^ McKie R. Sir Tim Hunt: my gratitude to female scientists for their support. The Observer, 20 June 2015.
  30. ^ Leake J. (21 June 2015). "UCL may reinstate Nobel scientist". Sunday Times. (subscription required (help)). 
  31. ^ Tim Hunt plaudits. Letter to The Times, 23 June 2015.
  32. ^ Whipple T.Women scientists defend 'sexist' Nobel winner. The Times, 23 June 2015.
  33. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2001". nobelprize.org. 
  34. ^ "Royal Medal recent winners". Retrieved 2008-11-13. 
  35. ^ "Interview about knighthoods on BBCR4 PM Show". Retrieved 2014-12-15. 
  36. ^ a b Tim Hunt at the Notable Names Database
  37. ^ "Collins' profile in the UCL IRIS database". Retrieved 2015-06-21. 

Media related to Tim Hunt at Wikimedia Commons