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]

Hunt regularly spent summers working at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, which was popular with scientists for its advanced summer courses, and in particular, with those interested in the study of mitosis. The location provided a ready supply of surf clams and sea urchins amongst the reefs and fishing docks, and it was these invertebrates that were particularly useful for the study of the synthesis of proteins in embryogenesis, as the embryos were simply generated with the application of filtered sea water, and the transparency of the embryo cells was well suited to microscopic study.[11]

It was there at Woods Hole in the Summer of 1982 using the sea urchin (Arbacia punctulata) egg as his model organism, he discovered the cyclin molecule.[9] Hunt was a keen cyclist and named the protein based on his observation of the cyclical changes in its levels.[12]

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. The cyclin mechanism of cell division is fundamental to all living organisms (excluding bacteria) and thus the study of the process in simple organisms helps shed light on the growth of tumours in humans.[13]

In 1990, he began work at Imperial Cancer Research Fund, now known as the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute in the United Kingdom.[13] He is a member of the Advisory Council for the Campaign for Science and Engineering.[14] He also sits on the Selection Committee for Life Science and Medicine, which chooses winners of the Shaw Prize.

Controversy over lunchtime toast at WCSJ 2015[edit]

A 13 second recording of Hunt's closing comment and laughter in the room.[15][16]

On 9 June 2015, at the 2015 World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul, during a lunch for female journalists and scientists, Hunt was asked at short notice to say some words. There is no transcript of what he said, but part of his remarks have been approximately reconstructed:[17]

A short recording was made at the event by Natalia Demina. In it, Hunt said:

The recording shows Sir Tim's concluding remarks were followed by laughter and appreciative applause.[15]

Social media reaction[edit]

Members of the audience tweeted their recollection of parts of this speech. These comments without context were widely re-shared and condemned in a reaction that The Observer described as a "particularly vicious social media campaign",[20] Hunt being subject to "intense, vitriolic online abuse".[21] That same day the Royal Society formally distanced itself from Hunt's comments as reported and emphasised its commitment to equality in the sciences.[22][23]

A day later, 10 June, numerous media outlets reported portions of Hunt's remarks and criticized them as sexist.[24][25] Connie St Louis gave 37 words of the remark (from "Let me tell you about my trouble with girls" to "when you criticise them they cry") but said "he just ploughed on for about five to seven minutes."[26] In an interview with Radio 4's Today programme following the incident, Hunt apologised and said his comments were meant to be "light hearted ironic remarks", and he "meant the part about having trouble with girls" having found "emotional entanglements made life very difficult". He went on to say "I'm very sorry if people took offence. I certainly did not mean to demean women, but rather be honest about my own shortcomings."[20][27]

Hunt felt he had made it clear he was joking because he had included the phrase ‘now seriously’ in his statement.[28] The reconstruction of his words by an unnamed EU official corroborated the inclusion of these words.[29] On 27 June, The Times reported that St Louis had, contrary to some of the previous statements, accepted that Hunt's comments were made "in jest".[30] It was only on the 18th of July, 39 days after Hunt's comments, that the recording of part of them (and the laughter and applause) became public.[15]

UCL professorship resignation[edit]

On 10 June Hunt resigned from his position as an honorary professor with the University College London's Faculty of Life Sciences[31] and from the Royal Society's Biological Sciences Awards Committee.[32] He had been told by a senior [at UCL] to resign immediately or be sacked.[20] 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 a fellow of the Royal Society, said Hunt "was always immensely supportive of the ERC’s work around gender equality".[20]

The decision to ask Hunt to resign from his honorary position at UCL was taken without consultation with the council, the university's governing body.[33] The UCL president, Michael Arthur, released a statement, reported on the BBC on 26 June, stating that there would be no reinstatement of Hunt as it would send "entirely the wrong signal".[34] The university's council later confirmed this decision.[35]

On 30 June, The Guardian reported that broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby had resigned from an honorary fellowship at UCL in protest at its treatment of Hunt.[36] Also, author and journalist Jeremy Hornsby wrote University College London out of his will in protest, leaving it "about £100,000 worse off".[37]

Wider reaction[edit]

Physicist and broadcaster Brian Cox, speaking on BBC Radio 4's The World at One, described Hunt's comments as "very ill-advised", but 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".[38]

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".[39][40]

At least eight Nobel prizewinning scientists and 21 honorary fellows had criticised the treatment of Hunt following his resignation.[41][42] Boris Johnson,[43] the mayor of London, and Richard Dawkins[18] also expressed their indignation at the treatment of Hunt.

Paul Nurse, head of the Royal Society who shared the 2001 Nobel prize in medicine with Hunt, stated that he said 'some silly things'[44] and that the reaction to Hunt's toast had been bad for science,[42] while saying later that the response to Hunt's comments was "a twitter and media storm, completely out of proportion" and 'he should never have been sacked by University College London'.[45]

In October 2015, Sir Colin Blakemore resigned as honorary president of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW) in protest over its decision to support the claims made by Connie St Louis. He maintains that her account was "unbalanced, exaggerated, and selective" and criticises the ABSW's decision not to investigate the issue. Blakemore's position was backed by Athene Donald, who had written to the ABSW asking them to investigate the way the story was reported writing that "Tim Hunt's reputation has been destroyed because careful journalistic due diligence was not followed by many who wrote about the event, and the ABSW decision not to take any further action appears to endorse such behaviour."[21]

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 Paul Nurse for their discoveries regarding cell cycle regulation by cyclin and cyclin-dependent kinases.[46] 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".[47]

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.[48]

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.[49] They have two daughters.[1]


  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 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. 10 June 2015. 
  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. ^ Jackson, Peter K. (July 2008). "The Hunt for Cyclin". Cell 134 (2): 199–202. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2008.07.011. 
  12. ^ "Understanding how cells divide – the story of a Nobel prize". Cancer Research UK - Science blog. Retrieved 2015-10-24. 
  13. ^ a b "Cancer Research UK: Tim Hunt". Retrieved 2008-11-13. 
  14. ^ "Advisory Council of the Campaign for Science and Engineering". Retrieved 2011-02-11. 
  15. ^ a b c Moody, Oliver (18 July 2015). "Recording ‘shows Sir Tim was joking’". The Times. Retrieved 18 July 2015. 
  16. ^ a b Cathy Young (22 Jul 2015). ""Sexist Scientist" Tim Hunt: The Real Story". Real Clear Politics. On July 18, The Times published a new bombshell: a 12-second recording of the final moments of Hunt’s remarks that Demina had discovered among her materials from the conference and turned over to the newspaper with Mensch’s help. 
  17. ^ a b Louise Mensch, The Myth of the Tim Hunt “Transcript” at unfashionista.com, posted 23 October 2015, accessed 24 October 2015
  18. ^ a b 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 (London). Retrieved 24 June 2015. 
  19. ^ Radcliffe, Rebecca (10 June 2015). "Nobel scientist Tim Hunt: female scientists cause trouble for men in labs". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  20. ^ 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. 
  21. ^ a b editor, Robin McKie Science. "Tim Hunt sexism row reignited after scientist quits writers' group". the Guardian. Retrieved 2015-10-24. 
  22. ^ "Science needs women – Royal Society". 9 Jun 2015. Retrieved 10 Jun 2015. 
  23. ^ Anon (2015). "Sexism has no place in science". Nature 522 (7556): 255–255. doi:10.1038/522255a. ISSN 0028-0836. 
  24. ^ Greenberg, Alissa (10 June 2015). "A Nobel Scientist Just Made a Breathtakingly Sexist Speech at International Conference". Time (New York City, New York). Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  25. ^ Tracy, Abigail (10 June 2015). "Nobel Laureate Tim Hunt Under Fire For Sexist Comments". Forbes. Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  26. ^ "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 (London). 
  27. ^ Grierson, Jamie (10 June 2015). "Tim Hunt apologises for comments on his 'trouble' with female scientists". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  28. ^ McKie R. Sir Tim Hunt: my gratitude to female scientists for their support. The Observer, 20 June 2015.
  29. ^ Whipple, Tom (24 June 2015). "Leaked transcript shows ‘sexist’ scientist was joking". The Times. Retrieved 30 June 2015. 
  30. ^ "UCL: regrettable but right for ‘sexist’ scientist to go | The Times". The Times (in en-GB). Retrieved 2015-11-20. 
  31. ^ "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. 
  32. ^ Jump, Paul; Else, Holly. "Sir Tim Hunt resigns from two posts". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 12 June 2015. 
  33. ^ Londoner's Diary: Will Tim Hunt’s nemesis at UCL now stand up? London Evening Standard, 15 June 2015.
  34. ^ Ghosh, Pallab (26 June 2015). "UCL says Tim Hunt will not be back after 'sexist' comments". BBC News. Retrieved 30 June 2015. 
  35. ^ Tim Hunt sexism dispute: UCL ruling council backs decision to let him go, The Guardian, July 9, 2015
  36. ^ Meikle, James (30 June 2015). "Dimbleby resigns from UCL in protest at 'disgraceful' treatment of Sir Tim Hunt". The Guardan. Retrieved 30 June 2015. 
  37. ^ Mendick, Robert (18 July 2015). "Author drops UCL from £1m will over Sir Tim Hunt's treatment". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  38. ^ Press Association (16 June 2015). "Brian Cox criticises 'disproportionate' reaction to Tim Hunt's comments". Guardian. Retrieved 18 June 2015. 
  39. ^ Tim Hunt plaudits. Letter to The Times, 23 June 2015.
  40. ^ Whipple T.Women scientists defend 'sexist' Nobel winner. The Times, 23 June 2015.
  41. ^ Turner, Camilla (20 June 2015). "Nobel prizewinners defend Sir Tim Hunt amid 'sexism' row". The Telegraph (London). Retrieved 14 July 2015. 
  42. ^ a b Knapton, Sarah (10 July 2015). "Sir Tim Hunt deserved to lose his job over 'chauvinist' comments, Nobel Prize winner says". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  43. ^ "Boris Johnson defends Sir Tim Hunt's 'sexist' remarks". BBC News. Retrieved 6 July 2015. 
  44. ^ https://home.bt.com/news/uk-news/sir-tim-hunt-deserved-to-lose-job-11363991767713
  45. ^ Whipple, Tom (13 July 2015). "Leave Sir Tim alone, says fellow laureate". The Times. Retrieved 13 July 2015. 
  46. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2001". nobelprize.org. 
  47. ^ "Royal Medal recent winners". Retrieved 2008-11-13. 
  48. ^ "Interview about knighthoods on BBCR4 PM Show". Retrieved 2014-12-15. 
  49. ^ "Collins' profile in the UCL IRIS database". Retrieved 2015-06-21. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to Tim Hunt at Wikimedia Commons