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Magdalene College Cambridge

Professor Sir John Gurdon FRS

Professor Gurdon served as Master of Magdalene from 1995 to 2002. He has received various recognitions, including, most recently, the Lasker Award for Basic Medical Science, and the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2012.

Professor Sir John Gurdon did his undergraduate work in Zoology in the University of Oxford and later held a one-year postdoctoral position at CalTech in the USA. 

He returned to Oxford and became a university lecturer in Embryology. In 1971 he moved to the MRC Molecular Biology Laboratory in Cambridge, continuing his work on Amphibian developmental biology. 

In 1983 he moved to the University of Cambridge as John Humphrey Plummer Professor of Cell Biology. He co-founded a research Institute of Developmental and Cancer biology with Professor Laskey as co-chairman and was Chairman of this Institute until 2002.

During his career Dr Gurdon concentrated on nuclear transplantation in the frog Xenopus.  He has also carried out a range of experiments with this material, discovering the value of messenger RNA microinjection, mechanisms of response to morphogen gradients, and, most recently, mechanisms of nuclear reprogramming by Xenopus oocytes and eggs.


Research Interests

Nuclear transplantation; cloning

We are trying to find ways of obtaining embryo cells from the cells of an adult. The eventual aim is to provide replacement cells of all kinds starting from usually obtainable cells of an adult individual. For example, we would like to be able to find a way of obtaining spare heart or brain cells from skin or blood cells. The important point is that the replacement cells need to be from the same individual, to avoid problems of rejection and hence of the need for immunosuppression. We are trying to identify the molecules and mechanisms by which eggs can reverse the process of specialisation, so as to derive embryo cells from adult skin cells.


DPhil in Embryology (Christ Church, Oxford, 1956-60)

BA/MA in Zoology, 1st Class Honours (Christ Church, Oxford, 1952-56)

Career/Research Highlights

  • Scientific Medal of the Zoological Society, 1967
  • Albert Brachet Prize, Belgian Royal Academy, 1968
  • Fellow of the Royal Society, 1971
  • Feldberg Foundation Award, 1975
  • Croonian Lecturer and John Jaffe Prize, Royal Society, 1976
  • Paul-Ehrlich-Ludwig-Darmstaedter Prize, Germany, 1977
  • Hon. Foreign Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1978
  • Fellow, Eton College, 1978-93
  • Doctor of Science, Honoris causa, University of Chicago, 1978
  • Nessim Habif Prize, University of Geneva, 1979
  • Ciba Medal and Prize of the Biochemical Society, 1979
  • Foreign Associate, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, 1980
  • Docteur Honoris Causa, Universite Rene Descartes, Paris, 1982
  • Comfort Crookshank triennial Award for Cancer Research, Middlesex Hospital Medical School, 1983
  • Foreign Member, American Philosophical Society, 1983
  • William Bate Hardy triennial Prize, Cambridge Philosophical Society, 1984
  • Foreign Associate, Belgian Royal Academy of Sciences, Letters, and Fine Arts, 1984
  • Prix Charles Leopold Mayer, Academie des Sciences, France, 1984
  • Honorary Studentship (= Fellowship), Christ Church, Oxford, 1985
  • Ross Harrison Prize, International Society of Developmental Biology, 1985
  • Royal Medal, Royal Society, 1985
  • Fullerian Professor of Physiology and Comparative Anatomy, Royal Institution, 1985-91
  • Emperor Hirohito International prize for Biology, Japan, 1987
  • Doctor of Science, Honoris causa, University of Oxford, 1988
  • Wolf Prize in Medicine, 1989
  • Foreign Member, Lombardy Academy of Science, 1989
  • Foreign Associate, Academie des Sciences, Institut de France, 1990
  • Member, Academia Europaea, 1991
  • Swedish Oncology Society, Jan Waldenstrom Medal, 1991
  • Distinguished Service Award, Miami, 1992
  • Knight Bachelor, June 1995
  • Doctor of Science, Honoris causa, University of Hull, 1998
  • Doctor of Science, Honoris causa, University of Glasgow, 2000
  • Jean Brachet Memorial Prize, International Society for Differentiation, 2000
  • Conklin Medal of the American Society for Developmental Biology, 2001
  • Honorary Fellowship, Magdalene College, Cambridge, 2002
  • Copley Medal, Royal Society, 2003
  • Foreign Associate US National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine, 2003
  • Pioneer in Stem Cell Award, Frontiers in Human Embryonic Stem Cell Organizing Committee, 2004
  • Charles M and Martha Hitchcock Professorship, University of California, Berkeley, 2005-2006
  • Doctor of Science, Honoris causa, University of Cambridge, 2007
  • Honorary Foreign Member American Anatomical Society, 2007
  • Honorary Member Anatomical Society of Great Britain, 2007
  • Saxen and Toivonen Memorial Medal and Prize, Finland, 2007
  • Honorary Fellowship, Churchill College, Cambridge, 2007
  • Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Sciences, Brandeis, USA 2009
  • Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research , USA 2009
  • Doctor of Science, Honoris causa, Vrije Universiteit Brussel 2009
  • Doctor of Science, Honoris causa, Université Libre de Bruxelles, 2009
  • Honorary Fellowship, Cambridge Philosophical Society, 2010
  • Honorary Fellowship, Academy of Medical Sciences, 2011
  • Doctor of Science, Honoris causa, Universidad Andres Bello, Santiago, Chile 2012
  • Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, 2012
  • Doctor of Science, Honoris causa, The Rockefeller University, 2014

Professional Affiliations

Fellow, Royal Society

Honorary Fellow, Royal College of Physicians

Honorary Member, Biochemical Society

Honorary Fellow, Cambridge Philosophical Society

Honorary Fellow, UK Academy of Medical Sciences

Honorary Fellow, Society of Biology

Honorary Member, British Anatomical Society

Foreign Associate, US National Academies of Sciences

Foreign Associate, US National Academies of Health and Medicine

Foreign Associate, French National Academy of Sciences

Honorary Member, American Association of Anatomists

Member, European Molecular Biology Organization

Member, Academia Europaea

Honorary Fellow (Inaugural Fellow) of the American Association for Cancer Research

Key Publications

'“Fertile” intestine nuclei', Nature 210 (1966), 1240-1241.

'The Croonian Lecture, 1976: Egg cytoplasm and gene control in development', Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B. 198 (1977), 211-247.

'The egg and the nucleus: a battle for supremacy', Development 140 (2013), 2449-2456 (doi:10.1242/dev.097170)