Mendel Medal 2023 – Professor Dame Caroline Dean

The Mendel Medal 2023 has been awarded to Professor Dame Caroline Dean for her unique contribution towards understanding temporal control of flowering and the epigenetic mechanisms underlying vernalisation.

Prof Dean will be presented with her award on 7th November 2023, at the Genetics Society’s scientific meeting in Newcastle: Genetics of future food production and the green revolution 2.0.

Caroline Dean has determined the mechanistic basis of how plants use seasonal temperature signals to judge when to flower. Her investigations of why some plants overwinter before flowering, how plants monitor winter cold, and how they adapt to different climates, elucidated a cellular memory mechanism that senses and remembers long-term temperature exposure.

Using genetic approaches at every step she revealed a conserved silencing mechanism involving sense-antisense transcription and Polycomb epigenetic regulation. The target is the Arabidopsis floral repressor gene, FLC, a major evolutionary node regulating developmental timing in the Brassicaceae. Her work has revealed important general concepts on epigenetic switching, the role of non-coding transcripts in transcriptional dynamics, and how non-coding single-nucleotide polymorphism can modulate silencing to underpin adaptation.

Her discovery on the thermosensory mechanisms enabling cells to extract information from long-term exposure of noisy environmental cues has transformed thinking in the field. This molecular understanding will have huge implications for fragile ecosystems and agricultural practice as the extremes in our climate increase.

She was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology (1978) and a DPhil in Biology (1982) at the University of York. She then spent 5 years in a start-up biotech company Advanced Genetic Sciences in California, before starting her lab at John Innes Centre (1988). She has been awarded the Wolf Prize in Agriculture (2020), Royal Medal (2020), American Academy Arts & Science (2020), Novartis prize, Biochemistry Society (2019), L’Oréal-UNESCO European Laureate (2018), Royal Society Darwin Medal, (2016), FEBS-EMBO Woman in Science (2015), Foreign Member of the National Academy of Sciences (2008), Genetics Society Medal 2007, Fellow of the Royal Society (2004), EMBO Member (1999).

Find out more about Prof Dean’s lab at the the John Innes Centre.