Professor Dame Caroline Dean has been named by the Genetics Society as the recipient of the Mendel Medal for 2023.
Professor Dean will receive the award on November 7 at the Genetics Society’s scientific meeting in Newcastle, titled “Genetics of future food production and the green revolution 2.0.”
The award is named after Gregor Mendel (1822-84) whose experiments on heredity in peas laid the foundations of the science of genetics.
The medal is awarded by the President of the Genetics Society, usually twice within their term of office, to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to research in a field of genetics. First awarded in 1958, its previous recipients associated with the John Innes Centre include Professor Sir David Hopwood (1998) and Professor Cyril Darlington (1972).
“I’m honoured to receive this award in recognition of the work of my group at the John Innes Centre and our collaborators, Prof Martin Howard (John Innes Centre) and Dr Mariann Bienz (MRC, Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge). Our molecular understanding of how plants respond to seasonal signals. has major implications for fragile ecosystems and agricultural practice as the extremes in our climate increase,” said Professor Dean.
Professor Dean has determined the mechanistic basis of how plants use seasonal temperature signals to judge when to flower. Her investigations of why some plants overwinter before flowering, how plants monitor winter cold, and how they adapt to different climates, uncovered a cellular memory mechanism that senses and remembers long-term temperature exposure.
Using genetic approaches, she revealed a conserved silencing mechanism involving sense-antisense transcription and Polycomb epigenetic regulation. The target is the Arabidopsis floral repressor gene, FLC, a major evolutionary node regulating flowering and vernalization in many plant species, which including major crops.
Her work has revealed important general concepts on epigenetic switching, the role of non-coding transcripts in transcriptional dynamics, and how non-coding single-nucleotide polymorphism can modulate silencing to underpin adaptation.
Her discovery of the thermosensory mechanisms enabling cells to extract information from long-term exposure of noisy environmental cues has transformed thinking in the field.
The honour is the latest in a distinguished career. Professor Dean has been awarded the Wolf Prize in Agriculture (2020), Royal Medal (2020), American Academy Arts & Science (2020), Novartis prize, Biochemistry Society (2019), L’Oréal-UNESCO European Laureate (2018), Royal Society Darwin Medal, (2016), FEBS-EMBO Woman in Science (2015), Foreign Member of the National Academy of Sciences (2008), Genetics Society Medal (2007), Fellow of the Royal Society (2004), EMBO Member (1999).