Genetics Society Medal 2018 – Mike Bevan

Michael Bevan studied biochemistry at Auckland University in New Zealand before moving to Cambridge University to study for a PhD in the Biochemistry Department. He became interested in DNA after a lecture by Fred Sanger in 1976, and studied Agrobacterium tumefaciens T-DNA transfer into plants cells under the guidance of Mary-Dell Chilton at Washington University in St Louis. This work led to methods for transferring and expressing any gene in a plant, laying the foundations for GM agriculture. Since returning to the UK in 1982, he worked at the Plant Breeding Institute in Cambridge, then moved to the John Innes Centre in Norwich in 1989. He initiated and led an international collaboration to sequence the genome of Arabidopsis thaliana, completing the project in 2000. Following this, he has been involved in sequencing several grass genomes, most recently that of bread wheat.

His interests in wheat genomics are now focussed on understanding how pseudogenization, epigenetic modifications and gene expression are influenced by the formation of new wheat hybrids, as such changes generate new traits in hexaploid wheat. Linked to this work, he is exploring applications of genomics to improve the precision and efficiency of wheat breeding. He has also identified novel molecular mechanisms controlling organ and seed size, phenotypes making important contributions to crop yield. He was elected to the European Molecular Biology Organisation in 2001, and to the Royal Society in 2013. He was awarded the Rank Prize for Nutrition in 1987 for his work on plant transformation and the Kumho Award in 2001 for sequencing the first plant genome.