Sir John Bertrand Gurdon (JBG) is a British development biologist, the one who studies the process by which organisms grow and develop.
JBG is best known for his pioneering research on somatic-cell nuclear transplantation (“SCNT”), which in genetics and developmental biology, is a laboratory technique for creating a clone embryo with a donor nucleus; and cloning, also in biology, is the process of producing similar populations of genetically identical individuals that occurs in nature when organisms such as bacteria, insects or plants reproduce asexually.
In 2009, Gurdon was awarded the Lasker Award, which is awarded annually since 1946 to living persons who have made major contributions to medical science or who have performed public service on behalf of medicine. And this year, won a Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with Yamanaka, administered by the Nobel Foundation, awarded once a year for outstanding discoveries in the fields of life sciences and medicine.
Gurdon attended Eton College, usually referred to as “Eton,” a British independent boarding school for boarding pupils aged between 13 to 18 years, where he ranked last out of the 250 boys in his year group at biology, and was in bottom set in every other science subject. A schoolmaster wrote a report stating, “I believe he has ideas about becoming a scientist; on his present showing that is quite ridiculous.” Gurdon later had this report framed; he told a reporter, “When you have problems like an experiment doesn’t work, which often happens, it’s nice to remind yourself that perhaps after all you are not so good at this job and the schoolmaster may have been right.”
Gurdon went to Christ Church, Oxford, one of the largest constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England, to study classics (sometimes encompassing “Classical Studies” or “Classical Civilization”), the branch of the Humanities comprising the languages, literature, philosophy, history, art, archaeology and other culture of the ancient Mediterranean world (Bronze Age ca. BC 3000 - Late Antiquity ca. AD 300-600); especially Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome during Classical Antiquity (ca. BC 600 - AD 600). However, he switched to zoology, the branch of biology that relates to the animal kingdom, including structure, embryology, evolution, classification, habits, and distribution of all animals, both living and extinct.
For his D.Phil. (“Doctor of Philosophy” abbreviation in English-speaking countries and originally as “Dr.Phil.”), a postgraduate academic degree awarded by universities, he studied nuclear transplantation in the frog “Xenopus,” a genus of highly aquatic frogs native to Sub-Saharan Africa, with Michael Fischberg at Oxford.
Following postdoctoral work at the California Institute of Technology (commonly referred to as “Caltech”), a private research university located in Pasadena, California, United States, he returned to England and his early posts were at the Department of Zoology of the University of Oxford (1962-71), a university located in Oxford, England.
Gurdon has spent much of his research career at the University of Cambridge, a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. First, he worked at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, or “LMB” (1971-83), a research institute in Cambridge, England, which was at the forefront of the revolution in molecular biology which occurred in the 1950-60s, since then it remains a major medical research laboratory with a much broader focus; by the “Medical Research Council” (MRC), a publicly funded government agency responsible for coordinating and funding medical research in the UK. After that, he worked at the Department of Zoology (1983-date).
In 1989, he was a founding member of the Wellcome/CRC Institute for Cell Biology and Cancer (later Wellcome/CR UK) in Cambridge, and was its Chair until 2001. He was a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics 1991-1995, a UK-based independent charitable body, which examines and reports on ethical issues raised by new advances in biological and medical research; and Master of Magdalene, College, Cambridge, a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England, from 1995 to 2002.
In 1958, Gurdon, then at the University of Oxford, a university located in Oxford, England, successfully cloned a frog using intact nuclei, which in biology, are membrane-enclosed organelle found in eukaryotic cells, from the somatic cells of a “Xenopus” tadpole, a genus of highly aquatic frogs native Sub-Saharan Africa. This was an important extension of work of Briggs and King in 1952 on transplanting nuclei from embryonic blastula cells, a hollow sphere of cells formed during an early stage of embryonic development in animals.
Gurdon’s experiments captured the attention of the scientific community and the tools and techniques he developed for nuclear transfer are still used today. The term clone (from the ancient Greek word which means “twig”) had already been in use since the beginning of the 20th century in reference to the plants. In 1963, the British biologist J. B. S. Haldane, known as Jack (but uses the former name for printed works), a British-born geneticist and evolutionary biologist generally credited with a central role in the development of neo-Darwinian thinking (popularized by Richard Dawkins’ 1976 work titled “The Selfish Gene”), in describing Gurdon’s results, became one of the first to use the word “clone” in reference to animals.