Paul Nurse was born in Norfolk and raised in London, where he attended Harrow County Grammar School. In 1970 he received a degree in biology at the University of Birmingham and a PhD in 1973 from the University of East Anglia for research on amino acid pools in Candida utilis.
After spending several months in Urs Leupold's laboratory in Bern, Switzerland, where he learned classical genetics of fission yeast, he went to the laboratory of Murdoch Mitchison at the University of Edinburgh for postdoctoral studies on the cell cycle. Here, between 1973-1979, he used a classical genetic approach to study the cell cycle by identifying and studying a set of cell cycle defective mutants that have formed the basis of much of his future work.
From this work Paul identified the cdc2 gene in the yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe and showed that it controlled the progression of the cell cycle from G1 phase to S phase and the transition from G2 phase to mitosis.
In 1979 he set up his own laboratory at the University of Sussex. Here he developed techniques that allowed him to clone the cdc2 gene from fission yeast and to show that it encoded a protein kinase.
In 1984, Paul joined the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF, which became Cancer Research UK in 2002) and in 1987 he identified the human cdc2 homologous gene which codes for a cyclin dependent kinase CDK1. He left ICRF in 1988 to chair the Department of Microbiology at the University of Oxford. Here he continued his work on the cell cycle and also initiated new research areas to study cell form and genomics. He returned to the ICRF as Director of Research in 1993, and in 1996 became Director General of the ICRF and in 2002 the Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK.
In 2003, Paul became President of Rockefeller University in New York City where he continued to work on the cell cycle, cell form and genomics of fission yeast.
In 2010, he became the first Director and Chief Executive of the Francis Crick Institute in London and in addition for 5 years was President of the Royal Society.
Awards and recognition
Paul was awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Leland Hartwell and Tim Hunt for their discoveries of protein molecules that control the division (duplication) of cells in the cell cycle.
In 1989 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) and in 1995 he received the Royal Society Royal Medal and became a foreign associate of the US National Academy of Sciences. He received the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 1998 and was knighted in 1999. He was awarded the French Legion d'Honneur in 2002 and the Royal Society Copley Medal in 2005.
He was a member of the Council for Science and Technology advising the Prime Minister from 2000 to 2015. In 2013 he became the winner of the Albert Einstein World Award of Science conferred by the World Cultural Council, and since 2017 has been a Chief Scientific Advisor of the European Commission.
His nomination for the Royal Society reads: "Distinguished for his studies of genes, which regulate the cell cycle in fission yeast and higher organisms. He developed techniques for transformation, gene replacement and expression vectors in the fission yeast S. pombe. He identified two major controls in the cell cycle and he cloned and characterised genes involved in commitment to DNA synthesis or mitosis notably the 'start' gene cdc 2. He showed that cdc 2 encodes a protein kinase which is potentially regulated by phosphorylation. He identified, cloned and sequenced the human equivalent of cdc 2 and showed that its sequence is extensively conserved from yeasts to man. Together with Maller and Lohka, he has now shown that purified preparations of the vertebrate cell-cycle regulator 'maturation promoting factor' contain the product encoded by the cdc 2 homologue."
Paul has received over 60 honorary degrees and fellowships including those from universities where he was trained - Birmingham, East Anglia, Edinburgh and Sussex - as well as Oxford and Cambridge. He is also a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and of the British Academy.