Leicester link to Nobel Prize winners

In the latest announcement from the Nobel Prize committee, US academics Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash at Brandeis University, Boston and Mike Young at Rockefeller University, New York, have received the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm. Jeff Hall and Michael Rosbash are collaborators of Professor Bambos Kyriacou from our Department of Genetics and Genome Biology.

Bambos worked with Jeff Hall and Michael Rosbash for nearly 20 years and was a co-author of the key initial paper cited by the Nobel Committee.

Hall, Rosbash and Young were able to peek inside our biological clock and elucidate its inner workings. Their discoveries explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth's 24 hour rotation.

Bambos worked with Jeff Hall and Michael Rosbash on the neurogenetics of sexual and circadian behaviour in flies and continued this collaboration into the 1980s and 1990s.  He was involved in the pioneering molecular analyses of fly circadian rhythm genes, first at Brandeis University in Boston, USA, then Edinburgh, and finally in the Genetics department at Leicester, where he has worked since 1984.

Bambos said: “The work on clock genes started as a side-project of mine in 1978 when I first went to Jeff’s lab in Boston – but I soon dumped my initial project and worked fulltime on clocks.  When I left Brandeis in 1981 to go to Edinburgh I chatted with Michael who was a molecular biologist, Jeff’s best friend and a mate of mine with whom I used to go watch the Boston Celtics, and suggested he might want to molecularly clone the clock gene I was working on.

“He collaborated with Jeff (who was a fly geneticist) and me and Ron Konopka, (the guy who first identified the clock gene  in 1971 - sadly deceased in 2015) and  their students to identify the DNA fragment that encoded the clock gene.  I built the equipment that allowed them to analyse the fly’s sleep-wake cycles in Edinburgh and shipped it to them– and then helped them analyse the data.  We published our paper in December 1984 at the same time as MikeYoung at Rockefeller University, New York, published his contribution.

“Mike Young, like Jeff and Michael R, had the same idea of cloning clock genes at the same time.  The three of them then took the study of clocks to a wholly different level over the next 30 years and so their Nobel Prize is totally justified based on their cumulative contributions.  Besides unlike some Nobel prizes, the wo(man) on the street can readily understand what 24 hour biological clocks are, because we all have them.  All three of them, Jeff, Michael and Mike are brilliant, interesting characters in very different ways and we are all good friends.  I spent 4 hours yesterday talking to Jeff on the phone.  I haven’t laughed so much in years.”

Bambos’current research interests are focused on biological rhythms, aggression and the effects of electromagnetic field on behaviour, working mostly with Drosophila.  Within the department he collaborates extensively with  Dr Ezio Rosato on biological rhythms and Prof Flaviano Giorgini using fly models to study Huntington's and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Another early collaborator with a Nobel Prize winner is Professor Philip Baker, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Life Sciences. He collaborated with the late MRI pioneer and Nobel Laureate Peter Mansfield.

Our former Chancellor, Lord Porter of Luddenham, also received the 1967 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Lord Porter served as Chancellor between 1984 and 1995 and to this day, the George Porter Building, which houses our Department of Chemistry, is named in his honour.