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BBSRC congratulates 2008 Lasker Prize winner Prof David Baulcombe

13 September 2008

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) extends its warmest congratulations to David Baulcombe FRS, Professor of Botany at the University of Cambridge and long-time BBSRC grant holder, in winning the 2008 Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research.

Prof Baulcombe has received the award, alongside two US researchers, for the discovery of small RNA molecules that regulate gene function. Small RNAs are important as the latest research shows that the Human genome contains at least 500 small RNAs that could have a role in regulating many genes. Small RNAs have been implicated in normal processes such as development and blood-cell specialisation and when they malfunction they have an important underlying role in cancer and heart disease.

Prof Baulcombe, now at the University of Cambridge, conducted much of his ground breaking research at the Sainsbury Laboratory at the John Innes Centre, Norwich.

The action of the molecules had been observed previously but the small RNA had not been found before Prof Baulcombe proposed that this was due to very small size of the molecule. His lab developed the first experiments to look for them. After US researchers found small RNAs at work in nematode worms, Prof Baulcombe demonstrated their role in gene silencing in plants – a breakthrough that spurred researchers across the world to look for, and find, important small RNA molecules in a wide range of different organisms.

Steve Visscher, BBSRC Interim Chief Executive, said: "I am extremely pleased to see Prof Baulcombe’s work recognised with a Lasker Award. His ground breaking research that first led to the search for and subsequent discovery of small RNAs has many implications. It increases our understanding of how diseases interact with the people, livestock and plants they infect.

"Prof Baulcombe’s research is focused on fundamental plant biology but by awarding him the Basic Medical Research prize the Lasker Foundation has acknowledged an important point. Basic research reveals universal processes in the plant, microbe and animal kingdoms, contributing to an overall body of knowledge that can be tapped into to improve global quality of life.

"Prof Baulcombe’s work on small RNAs in plants opened the door for bioscientists to discover specific RNAs that are involved in cancer, heart conditions and viral infections.

"The bioscience community and the UK as a whole should be very proud of Prof Baulcombe and the contribution his research has made. The award highlights the strength, quality and impact of UK plant science research."

Prof Baulcombe has been supported by BBSRC for much of his career and is an active member of the BBSRC community, having sat on a number of the Research Council’s committees and panels. A significant proportion of his current research is funded through BBSRC grants.

BBSRC is the principal funder of basic plant research in the UK.

The Lasker Awards will be presented in New York on Friday 12 September. The Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research 2008 honours Victor R. Ambros, 54, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, David C. Baulcombe, 56, of the University of Cambridge, and Gary B. Ruvkun, 56, of Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston and Harvard Medical School, who discovered tiny RNAs that regulate gene function.

ENDS

About BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £420M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk

About the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation

The Lasker Foundation fosters the prevention and treatment of disease and disabilities by honoring excellence in basic and clinical science, educating the public, and advocating for support of medical research. This year the Lasker Awards carry an honorarium of $300,000 for each Award category. The laureates will receive a citation highlighting their achievements and an inscribed statuette of the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Lasker Foundation’s traditional symbol representing humanity’s victory over disease, disability, and death.

Lasker Awards often presage future recognition by the Nobel committee, so they have become popularly known as "America’s Nobels." Seventy-five Lasker laureates have received the Nobel Prize, including 27 in the last two decades.

The list of the 2008 Lasker Award recipients with their current professional and institutional affiliations follows. Additional materials will be posted on Saturday, September 13th at http://www.laskerfoundation.org

External contact

University of Cambridge Communications Office

tel: 01223 332300

Kendall Christiansen, Lasker Awards

tel: +1 212 686 4551, mob: +1 917 359 0725

Contact

Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299
fax: 01793 413382

Tracey Jewitt, Media Officer

tel: 01793 414694
fax: 01793 413382