Have fun, be naughty, says Nobel laureate

Have fun, be naughty, says Nobel laureate
Sir Tim Hunt, who won the 2001 Nobel Prize in Medicine, has noticed that younger scientists are more secretive, “partly because everybody is very keen to patent everything”. Openness is a better way of approaching science as one needs every conceivable clue one can get, he says.

Q: Could you explain the work which earned you the 2001 Nobel Prize in Medicine, for discovering key regulators of the cell cycle, to the average Joe?

In 1982, while teaching a summer course in Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts, the United States, I did this incredibly simple experiment during my free time on sea urchin eggs, looking for patterns of protein synthesis before and after fertilisation.

When eggs are fertilised, they suddenly switch on protein synthesis, to make new cells. But nobody had really asked how they do it.

I noticed that one of the proteins that was made disappeared just as the cells divided, a process called mitosis. This was absolutely amazing - nobody had ever seen that happen before.

I named the protein "cyclin", after my love for cycling.

Cyclin catalyses cell mitosis, and then just before the chromosomes come apart, it is destroyed.

Q: Why is it important?

This is a process that occurs in all living organisms, except bacteria and viruses. It happens in everything from yeast to plants, from humans to animals.

It's a very ancient part of evolution.

For example, an average person makes almost 2.5 million red blood cells every second.

The numbers are astronomical.

It has helped us understand better how cells divide, including how cancer cells divide.

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