Alan Fersht, an Emeritus Group Leader at the LMB, has been awarded the 2020 Royal Society Copley Medal, and Marta Zlatic, a group leader in the LMB’s Neurobiology Division, the Francis Crick Medal and Lecture, in recognition of their scientific achievements. They are two of the 25 Royal Society medals and awards winners announced this year. The annual prizes celebrate exceptional researchers and outstanding contributions to science across a wide array of fields.
Alan is awarded the Copley Medal for developing and applying the methods of protein engineering to provide descriptions of protein folding pathways at atomic resolution, revolutionising our understanding of these processes. The Copley Medal is the Royal Society’s oldest and most prestigious award, as well as being the world’s oldest scientific prize, having been first awarded in 1731.
Alan was at the LMB from 1968 to 1977, as a member of scientific staff and a group leader, and after a stint at Imperial in London, became Herchel Smith Professor of Organic Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, and simultaneously headed the MRC Centre for Protein Engineering from 1988 to 2010, next door to the old LMB building. In 2010 Alan returned to the LMB and is currently an emeritus scientist.
Alan’s research has focussed on the study of the structure, activity, and folding of proteins, and the relationships between these, as well as on the role of misfolding and instability in cancer and disease. To achieve these, Alan pioneered development of protein engineering approaches that have led to much greater understanding of these processes and laid the foundations for treatments for a number of diseases. Alan’s most recent interest is in the tumour suppressor p53, with the aim to understand how mutations affect its function, so that novel anti-cancer drugs may be designed to restore normal activity.
“Most of us who become scientists do so because science is one of the most rewarding and satisfying of careers and we actually get paid for doing what we enjoy. But recognition of one’s work, especially at home, is icing on the cake.
Like many Copley medallists, I hail from a humble immigrant background and the first of my family to go to university. If people like me are seen to be honoured for science, then I hope it will encourage young people in similar situations to take up science.”
Marta is awarded the Francis Crick Medal and Lecture for discovering how neural circuits generate behaviour by developing and disseminating definitive techniques, and by discovering fundamental principles governing circuit development and function. The Francis Crick Medal is awarded annually in any field in the biological sciences, with preference for work in genetics, molecular biology, neurobiology, and fundamental theoretical work.
Marta joined the LMB as a Group Leader in December 2019, from HHMI Janelia Research Campus, where she was a group leader since 2009. Previously, she was a Research and Teaching Fellow at Trinity College and the University of Cambridge.
A main aim of Marta’s group’s work is to understand how neuronal circuitry enables animals to learn and select actions, as well as to investigate the structural changes in the brain that are involved in storing memories. Before joining the LMB, Marta had developed a powerful approach that combines connectomics with physiology and behaviour in Drosophila larva to study the circuit implementation of neural computations.
“I was thrilled to receive the news and extremely honoured that our work has been recognised in this way.”
In addition, LMB Fellow Caroline Dean is awarded the Royal Medal for elucidating molecular mechanisms underlying seasonal timing in plants, thus discovering fundamental processes of plant developmental timing and the epigenetic basis of vernalisation. The LMB Fellows scheme aims to facilitate or enhance long-term collaborations between scientists from across the world and the LMB and its groups. Caroline, who works at the John Innes Centre in Norwich on vernalisation, the acceleration of plant flowering by exposure to periods of prolonged cold, collaborates with Mariann Bienz’s group in the LMB’s PNAC Division, to investigate structural changes associated with epigenetic switching involving the VIN/VEL proteins.
Previous LMB winners of the Copley Medal include Richard Henderson (2016), John Walker (2012), Hugh Huxley (1997), and Sydney Brenner (1991). The Francis Crick Medal and Lecture have previously been awarded to Greg Jefferis (2019), Madan Babu Mohan (2016), Sarah Teichmann (2012), and Jason Chin (2009). Winners of the Royal Medal include Michel Goedert (2019), Greg Winter (2011), and Alan Fersht (2008).