Birmingham academics named among the most eminent scientists in the UK

Two leading scientists from BHP founder member the University of Birmingham, have been named among the most eminent scientists and technologists in the UK and the Commonwealth.

Professor Gurdyal Besra, Bardrick Professor of Microbial Physiology and Chemistry in the School of Biosciences and Professor Ian Tomlinson, Director of the Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences have both been elected as Fellows of the Royal Society.

One of the highest accolades a scientist can achieve, Professor Besra and Professor Tomlinson join around 1,600 Fellows and Foreign Members, including around 80 Nobel Laureates who have been recognised over the years for their exceptional contributions to science.

Professor Besra said: “I am delighted to be elected to the Royal Society. This recognition is truly shared with the outstanding work that members of my laboratory, past and present, have produced over the past 30 years; it is both an honour and privilege to join the long and distinguished list of Fellows of the Royal Society.

“I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge my previous mentors, Professor David E. Minnikin and Patrick J. Brennan, and the many other colleagues with whom I’ve collaborated, as without them, this honour would have not been possible.”

Professor Tomlinson said: “I am truly surprised and delighted by this honour, and very grateful to the many I’ve worked with over the years, without whom my research would not have been possible.

“I hope that this recognition also demonstrates that there is still a place in medical research for groups working collaboratively across disciplines in an increasingly specialised scientific world.”

Announcing the honour today, the Royal Society have recognised Professor Besra for his advances in two areas of Microbiology and Immunology with election as a Fellow of the Royal Society. First, in improving our understanding of Mycobacterium tuberculosis cell wall assembly and the identification of novel drug targets for tuberculosis (TB). Second for his elegant and pioneering studies involving the identification, chemical synthesis and immunological properties of mycobacterial CD1 lipids and invariant Natural Killer T [iNKT]/CD1d ligands, for use in a wide range of medical applications.

Over the past three decades, Professor Besra has established himself as a world-leader in mycobacterial cell wall biochemistry and CD1 biology, publishing over 480 manuscripts, including key articles in Science, Nature and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA.

Professor Tomlinson is a clinician scientist and cancer geneticist. His work is based on the discovery and analysis of cancer-causing genes, especially inherited genetic variants that predispose to cancer. Using these findings, his research extends to the identification of disease mechanisms in model systems, and to cancer evolution.

Highlights of Professor Tomlinson’s work include the discovery of multiple Mendelian colorectal and kidney cancer predisposition genes. This has led to the identification and characterisation of diverse mechanisms of tumorigenesis, such as activation of mTOR signalling and failure of DNA polymerase proofreading. He has also led consortia that have identified many polymorphisms that influence the risk of colorectal, endometrial and oesophageal cancers. Ian’s work in cancer evolution includes both mathematical models and experimental analyses. He has focussed on the importance of selection in the Darwinian process of carcinogenesis, identifying several driver mutations under selective constraints. As a result, he has identified new models of cancer evolution.

Reacting to the news, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Birmingham, Professor Sir David Eastwood, said:  “I am delighted for Gurdyal and Ian. It is a rare and prestigious distinction for an academic to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

“The list of people who have been Fellows of the Royal Society in the past speaks volumes about the standard of academic excellence and impact that is required. For the University to see two academics elected at the same time is a fantastic achievement.”

Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, said: “Over the course of the Royal Society’s vast history, it is our Fellowship that has remained a constant thread and the substance from which our purpose has been realised: to use science for the benefit of humanity.

“This year’s newly elected Fellows and Foreign Members of the Royal Society embody this, being drawn from diverse fields of enquiry—epidemiology, geometry, climatology—at once disparate, but also aligned in their pursuit and contributions of knowledge about the world in which we live, and it is with great honour that I welcome them as Fellows of the Royal Society.”