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Genetics Society Medal 2012



The Genetics Society is pleased to announce that Dr Stephen West (CRUK) will be awarded the 2012 Genetics Society Medal for his contributions to the fields of genetic recombination and DNA repair. 

The Genetics Society Medal is an award that recognizes outstanding research contributions to genetics. Steve’s early work on genetic recombination led to the development of elegant in vitro systems for homologous pairing and strand exchange by the E. coli RecA protein; these studies were followed by his discovery of the first Holliday junction resolvase RuvC and branch migration proteins RuvA and RuvB, which ultimately led to the development of an in vitro system of DNA recombination. In turn, Steve identified and purified both the RAD51 recombinase and the long elusive GEN1 Holliday junction resolvase from human cells. These seminal studies underpin our present understanding of the molecular basis of DNA recombination. 

Steve’s research has also produced many key insights into the mechanisms underlying DNA repair and genome maintenance and tumour avoidance. The purification of the BRCA2 tumour suppressor, which is mutated in a significant proportion of individuals with a predisposition to breast cancer, enabled Steve to demonstrate that BRCA2 acts as a molecular chaperone that directs the loading of RAD51 recombinase to sites of DNA damage. Steve’s research has also provided links between DNA repair and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Ataxia and Oculomotor Apraxia. Taken together, Steve’s research exemplifies how genetics combined with biochemical and cell biological approaches can provide a mechanistic understanding of fundamental cellular processes.