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Genetics Society Medal 2005

Phil Ingham

Phil’s research achievements are many and outstanding. He was a pioneer in molecular genetics of Drosophila embryonic development, exploiting more quickly than most the ability to use in situ hybridisation to localise gene expression patterns. This led to crucial insights into the mechanisms underlying segmentation which, in turn, developed into one of the most important models for animal pattern formation. He discovered many of the key signaling mechanisms of the Hedgehog (Hh) pathway and cloned many of its components. He proposed (correctly) that the receptor protein Patched binds Hedgehog but that it unexpectedly acts to repress signalling. He also proposed (again correctly) that Smoothened was another receptor component, this time activating the pathway. He also identified cubitus interruptus as the transcription factor that mediates Hh signalling. Phil and others discovered that these signalling components are conserved throughout the animal kingdom. This led his research to diversify into zebrafish, and his lab is now a leading centre in the genetics of this species. Hedgehog signalling has become one of the most intensively studied signaling pathways in mammals as well as model organisms. This is not only because the pathway controls many aspects of development in all animals but also because the human homologues of Hh signalling components like Patched and Ci have been implicated quite directly in cancer. Hence Phil’s science has had a wide impact beyond his own field. His work exemplifies the ability of careful genetics to remain at the forefront of experimental biology even when large-scale approaches are increasingly dominant. Phil left the ICRF in 1996 and founded the new and highly successful Developmental Genetics Centre at the University of Sheffield.

Matthew Freeman