John B. Gurdon
Wolf Prize Laureate in Medicine 1989
John B. Gurdon
Affiliation at the time of the award:
University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
“for his introduction of the xenopus oocyte into molecular biology and his demonstration that the nucleus of a differentiated cell and of the egg differ in expression but not in the content of genetic material”.
The contributions of Professor John B. Gurdon to molecular embryology span three decades and cover many of the exciting advances in this field. Perhaps the most influential of Gurdon´s work is the introduction of the frog oocyte injection technology. John Gurdon first showed that messenger RNA injected into the oocyte directs the synthesis of the cognate protein, and he used this method in one of the first demonstrations of the existence of mRNA in eukaryotic cells. Since that time translation in oocytes has been used by hundreds of laboratories in a wide variety of experiments. Gurdon expanded the technology to the injection of DNA into the oocyte nucleus, allowing him to obtain, in collaboration with Don Brown, the first accurate transcription of a eukaryotic gene in a reconstituted system. This method, too, has been used by many workers to great advantage.
The injection technology was a highly original and useful derivation from Dr. Gurdon´s important experiments in nuclear transplantation in the frog. This work, which stands as a key observation in modern embryology, demonstrated that highly differentiated somatic nuclei could support the development of a complete tadpole with all its different tissues. Thus, embryogenesis does not, involve in general any irreversible change in the genome of animal cells.
In recent years Gurdon has focused his attention on the traditional problem of embryonic induction. In this area his contributions have been seminal in introducing molecular techniques to the study of induction, especially through the analysis of muscle differentiation and a-actin gene expression in the embryo.