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The Genetics Society is delighted to announce the winners of our 2017 awards. Further details of the prizes can be found on the appropriate webpage.


2017 Mendel Medal
Winner: Professor David Baulcombe (University of Cambridge)


David Baulcombe is the Regius Professor of Botany at the University of Cambridge. As a botany undergraduate at Leeds University in the 1970s he was inspired by models of genetic regulation that had been recently published by Britten and Davidson. For his PhD at the University of Edinburgh he wanted to test these models using plants and he chose to use an artichoke tissue culture system in which a plant hormone stimulated changes in gene expression. He was not able to make a lot of progress in this system, but during postdocs in Canada and the USA other similar plant hormone systems turned out to be a bit more rewarding. David then started his career as an independent scientist at the Plant Breeding Institute in Cambridge. Thereafter, he joined the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich. In 2007 he became the Professor of Botany at Cambridge University. David Baulcombe’s attention had turned to viruses and virus resistance in plants and he discovered the power of viruses as experimental tools to probe biology. He realized that there were similarities between viral defense mechanisms and gene silencing in plants and this eventually led him to the discovery of small RNAs. This discovery has had profound implications for the investigation of gene regulation in a very wide variety of animals, fungi and plants and led to the development of tools for manipulating of gene expression experimentally. Using the model organism Arabidopsis, his lab was able to identify some of the key molecular players in this gene silencing mechanism. David Baulcombe showed that RNA silencing can spread systemically throughout the plant and that it also plays an important role in protecting plant genomes from endogenous transposable elements as well as from viruses. This work led David Baulcombe into the field of Epigenetics – gene silencing triggered by small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) can be inherited, even between generations. Some of his recent work indicates that RNA silencing and epigenetics play a role in hybrid vigor. Taking this work to the next level, David is developing methods to improve the heritable characters of crops without modifying their genome, but rather using RNA to target epigenetic modifications to the chromosomes of crop plants. David’s current research includes studying RNA silencing in a single cell alga Chlamydomonas, and genetically engineering maize to resist a lethal disease that is a problem in Kenya and nearby regions of Africa. He is also exploring artificial evolution, using random mutagenesis to select mutant forms of the NB-LRR proteins that collectively mediate resistance to a huge range of viruses, bacteria, fungi and insects, but which individually are specific to one or a few plant pests and pathogens. David Baulcombe is generating new NB-LRR proteins that confer broader spectrum disease resistance than the progenitor wild type. David Baulcombe’s work therefore epitomizes how the highest level of discovery science can not only produce profound new insights into biological mechanisms of gene regulation and genome defense, but that can also be harnessed to bring new approaches to global problems of food security. David Baulcombe will present his medal lecture at the 2017 meetings of the Genetics Society/BSCB/BSDB (University of Warwick, April 2-7, 2017).



2017 Genetics Society Medal
Winner: Dr Marisa Bartolomei (University of Pennsylvania)


Marisa is a Professor of Cell & Developmental Biology and co-Director of the Epigenetics Program at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, having received her BS in Biochemistry at the University of Maryland and her PhD from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine under the guidance of Dr Jeffry Corden. She trained as a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Shirley Tilghman at Princeton University. In 1993, Dr. Bartolomei was appointed as an Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania and was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in 1999 and Professor in 2006. In 2006, Dr. Bartolomei received the Society for Women's Health Research Medtronics Prize for Contributions to Women's Health, and In 2011, received the Jane Glick Graduate School Teaching Award for the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and a MERIT award from the NIH. She was elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2014 and was recently elected Member-At-Large of the Section on Biological Sciences for AAAS (2016-2020 term).  Dr. Bartolomei previously served on the Science Board of Reviewing Editors, is a member of the Human Molecular Genetics and Molecular and Cellular Biology editorial boards and is an Associate editor for PLOS Genetics. Dr. Bartolomei’s research addresses the epigenetic mechanisms of genomic imprinting and X inactivation, as well as the impact of adverse environmental insults on epigenetic gene regulation using the mouse as a model.

2017 Balfour Lecture
Winner: Dr Andrew Wood (IGMM, Edinburgh)


Andrew Wood is a Sir Henry Dale Fellow and Chancellor’s fellow at the MRC Human Genetics Unit in Edinburgh. His doctoral work was undertaken with Rebecca Oakey at Kings College London, where he worked on the evolutionary origins and transcriptional regulation of imprinted genes in mammals. After using evolutionary properties of known imprinted genes to identify a novel imprinted locus, he discovered that epigenetic modifications within gene bodies can influence the decision between splicing and polyadenylation.
In 2008 he relocated to Barbara Meyer’s laboratory at UC Berkeley, where he was an early adopter of genome editing technologies, and published the first animal model generated using TALENs in 2011. Working with nematode worms, he and co-workers showed that methods for generating and isolating mutations using gene editing nucleases could be readily applied across species, which opened up reverse genetics in taxa where this was previously impractical.
Since moving to Edinburgh in 2011, his laboratory has focused on cell cycle regulation of chromosome structure and its relationship with mutational processes in primary haematopoietic cells. His group also continues to use genome editing tools for studies of directed evolution and DNA repair.

 

2017 JBS Haldane Lecture
Winner: Professor Enrico Coen (John Innes Institute, Norwich)

Enrico Coen is a plant developmental geneticist who is fascinated by how patterns of gene activity can lead to the generation of tissue shapes, like petals, wings or hearts. Working together with computer scientists and mathematicians he arrived at simple and testable hypotheses for the genetic control of shape formation.

A key concept to emerge was the central role that tissue polarity plays in defining local orientations of growth, and thus the final shape that emerges. Based on this notion he has demonstrated how even very complex shapes, like that of the snapdragon flower, can be explained by relatively simple rules. The breadth of his approach is illustrated by his books The Art of Genes and  Cells to Civilizations (shortlisted for the 2013 Royal Society popular science book prize) in which he shows how a common set of principles may underlie biological transformations from evolution and development to learning and cultural change. The books illustrate Coen's drive to integrate ideas across disciplines and to communicate science to a broad audience.  In recognition of his work, Coen was awarded the Croonian Medal of the Royal Society this year.


2017 Mary Lyon Medal

Winner: Dr Petra Hajkova
(MRC Clinical Sciences Centre , London | Imperial College London, Faculty of Medicine)

Petra Hajkova is the head of the Reprogramming and Chromatin Laboratory at the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre in London and a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College London. Her work focuses on the elucidation of molecular mechanisms implicated in the erasure of epigenetic information during epigenetic reprogramming in vivo (http://csc.mrc.ac.uk/research-group/reprogramming-and-chromatin/).

Following her Masters studies at the Charles University in Prague and PhD studies at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin, Petra joined the laboratory of Prof. Azim Surani in Cambridge as a postdoctoral fellow to investigate the processes of epigenetic reprogramming in vivo. In 2009 Petra established an independent laboratory at the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre in London where she has been continuing her work on the mechanisms of epigenetic reprogramming using both genetic and biochemical approaches.

Petra is a member of the EMBO Young Investigator Programme and a recipient of the ERC Consolidator Grant. She has been selected as a RISE1 member of the EpigeneSys (EU FP7) network and an associated member of the EuroSyStem network.