Dame Jean unravels the mysteries of DNA

The Leys School | 29 Nov 2017
Professor Dame Jean Thomas, the eminent biochemist and former Master of St Catharine's College, Cambridge, unravelled some of the mysteries of DNA and chromosomes when she delivered the third and final Leys Lecture in the series on "Progress".
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Dame Jean's illustrious career has brought her many honours, including fellowship of the Royal Society. She explained that she had started out as a chemist but became increasingly interested in development in the study of protein and DNA. Much of the pioneering work was being done in Cambridge, a stone's throw from The Leys, by Nobel Prize winners Fred Sanger and Max Perutz and John Kendrick-Jones, Dame Jean went to work at the Medical Research Council's Laboratory of Molecular Biology and has continued working in Cambridge on the study of proteins. She is currently working on how DNA is "packaged".

She described how the first discoveries about inherited traits had begun in the mid-19th century, when sharing of knowledge was slower than today. Since the launch of the Human Genome Project in 1990 the rate of progress had escalated as the speed of sequencing the human genome had increased and the cost had decreased, thanks to computers. This had opened the doors to large studies of populations and disease. The UK 100,000 Human Genomes project, launched by the Government in 2012, aims to create a new human genomic medicine service for the NHS.

In thanking Dame Jean for her talk, Martin Priestley, Headmaster, said she had communicated complex and vital concepts with great authority and clarity, showing a striking modesty that was at odds with her remarkable achievements. As she had illustrated, progress was made by building on the insights of those who had gone before.

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