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Honorary Member Biographies

Professor Dame Kay Elizabeth Davies M.A., D.Phil., F.MedSci., FRCP (hon), FRCPath, CBE, FRS

Kay Davies is the Dr Lee’s Professor of Anatomy in the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, Honorary Director of the MRC Functional Genomics Unit and Associate Head of Division (Development, Impact and Equality) at the University of Oxford. Her research interests lie in the molecular analysis of human genetic disease, particularly the genetic basis of neuromuscular and neurological disorders. She began her career in Oxford as a chemistry undergraduate, followed by a DPhil in Biochemistry. After a short postdoc in France she joined Bob Williamson’s department in St Mary’s Hospital in London where she began work on Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) which is caused by the absence of dystrophin. She has been working on the molecular analysis of this devastating progressive muscle wasting disease for more than 30 years. 

Prof. Dame Kay initially developed the first DNA probes for prenatal diagnosis and carrier detection and currently focuses on the development of effective treatments for DMD.  She identified the dystrophin-related protein utrophin and demonstrated that increasing levels of this protein could prevent the pathology in a mouse model of the disease.  She co-founded Vastox plc (now Summit plc) in order to take drugs that increase levels of utrophin to the clinic for DMD. In 1999, she set up the MRC Functional Genetics (now Genomics) Unit which aims to use genome information for the analysis of the function of genes to aid the development of new treatments for neurological disorders. Over the last ten years, she has been using ENU mouse mutants to model movement and behavioural disorders. One of these mutants links synaptic dysfunction for the first time to abnormal circadian rhythms and schizophrenia endophenotypes.

Dame Kay has won numerous prizes for her research and published more than 350 peer reviewed papers. She has an active interest in the ethical implications of genomics research and in promoting public understanding of science, appearing at Science Festivals, in newspaper reports on television and on radio (including Desert Island Discs).  She has served on many Committees for charities and government organisations and has been a Governor of the Wellcome Trust since 2003.  She is founding editor of the journal Human Molecular Genetics.  She is currently a Director of the American Society of Human Genetics, the first year Europeans have been elected to this role. Professor Davies is a founding fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2003.  She was awarded a CBE in 1995 and a DBE in 2008 in recognition of her many contributions to medical research.

Professor William G. Hill FRS, OBE

Bill Hill is one of the world’s leading quantitative geneticists, with a distinguished research career spanning 40 years, focussed on the variability in complex traits arising from the joint effects of genetic and environmental factors.  Raised on a Hertfordshire farm (which the family still owns), Bill came into genetics via an interest in livestock improvement.  After studying Agriculture at Wye College London and Genetics at UC Davis, Bill moved to Edinburgh to undertake a PhD in quantitative and population genetics with Alan Robertson.  Apart from occasional periods abroad to work with his many collaborators, he has stayed in Edinburgh since, building on the historical strength in quantitative genetics developed by Douglas Falconer, Alan Robertson and others.  

Bill’s research is primarily theoretical, using mathematical and computer models of the behaviour of genes in populations to understand the genetic basis of quantitatively varying traits.  His contributions have included studies of how genetic variation is maintained in natural populations, and how selection (both natural and artificial) changes the structure of genetic variation.  He has made numerous very influential advances in our understanding of the effects of finite population size and mutation on variability and selection responses, notably the role of mutation in maintaining continued responses to selection.  In addition to his purely scientific work, he has made many important contributions to the application of genetics to animal improvement, which have had a major impact on the livestock breeding industry.  He is a sought-after consultant by both public agencies and private businesses in this area.

Of especial importance has been his work on linkage disequilibrium, the non-random associations between genetic variants at different sites in the genome.  Such associations now provide an immensely important tool for geneticists seeking to map and identify genes involved in disease and other complex traits, and Bill’s work provided a basic framework for modelling and analysing linkage disequilibrium, which he went on to apply to genetic mapping.  As a PhD student with Alan Robertson, Bill demonstrated how selection acting at a locus interferes with that happening simultaneously at linked loci.  The Hill-Robertson effect has become one of the most influential ideas in population genetics, finding a new lease of life in its ability to explain patterns of molecular evolution and diversity revealed by the genomic revolution.  Within recent years, his work has helped to shape our understanding of what genome-scale data sets can tell us about complex traits and relatedness within populations.

Bill has served with distinction in several important academic administrative posts, culminating in the position of Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Edinburgh until his official retirement in 2002.  He continues to be highly active in the fields of quantitative genetics and animal breeding and has inspired many generations of scientists through his teaching and supervision.  He was elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1979, the Royal Society of London in 1985 and appointed OBE in 2004, in part for his contribution to the UK animal breeding industry.  

Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys FRS

Prof. Sir Alec Jeffreys studied biochemistry and genetics at Merton College, Oxford. Following an EMBO Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Amsterdam where, with Dr Richard Flavell, he was one of the first to discover split genes, he moved in 1977 to the Department of Genetics at the University of Leicester where he currently holds the positions of Professor of Genetics and Royal Society Wolfson Research Professor.

Sir Alec’s research at Leicester has focussed on exploring human DNA variation and the mutation processes that create this diversity. He was one of the first to discover inherited variation in human DNA, then went on to invent DNA fingerprinting, showing how it could be used to resolve issues of identity and kinship. His current work concentrates on developing new approaches to analysing variation and mutation in human chromosomes.

Sir Alec’s work has received widespread recognition, including his election to the Royal Society in 1986 and a Knighthood for services to genetics in 1994. Other awards include the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine (2004), the Lasker Award (2005) and the Heineken Prize (2006). He was also one of the four finalists for the Millennium Prize in 2008.

Professor Paul Nurse FRS

 Image Credit: BBC

Paul Nurse is a geneticist and cell biologist who has worked on how the eukaryotic cell cycle is controlled and how cell shape and cell dimensions are determined.  His major work has been on the cyclin dependent protein kinases and how they regulate cell reproduction.  He is a past President of the Royal Society (2010-2015), current Director of the Francis Crick Institute in London and has served as Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK and President of Rockefeller University.  He shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and has received the Albert Lasker Award and the Royal Society's Royal and Copley Medals.  He was knighted in 1999 and received the Legion d'honneur in 2003.

View the full list of honorary members of the Genetics Society