A CAMBRIDGE professor, originally from Solihull, has been awarded the half-million pound Balzan Prize for his outstanding achievements in science.
Sir David Baulcombe was the only Brit to receive one of the four prestigious International Balzan Prize Foundation awards, handed out each year in a range of fields from natural sciences to endeavours for peace.
Sir Baulcombe, knighted in 2009 for services to plant science, received his award for his ground-breaking research in the field of Epigenetics, the study of heritable traits which are caused by other factors aside from DNA.
“It was very nice surprise,” said the 61-year-old who has been the Regius Professor of Botany, Royal Society Research Professor and Head of the Department of Plant Sciences, at the University of Cambridge since 2007.
“Epigenetics is an emerging area of interest.
“What we’re finding is that cells carry a lot more information than simple information on DNA.
“It influences a whole bunch of areas of biology. From plant breeding and evolution, through to diseases such as cancer in humans.
“We work, in particular, with plants but plants are very good models for other sorts of organisms.
“When looking inside a cell, they can react similarly to how humans do.
“We’re all part of the same tree of life.
“The work we’re doing could have a massive influence across the scientific world.”
Sir Baulcombe said he planned to use the prize money to test his theory that epigenetics facilitates evolution.
Marc Van Montagu, Chairman of the Institute of Plant Biotechnology for Developing Countries, said Sir Baulcombe was receiving the prize; “for his fundamental contribution to the understanding of epigenetics and its role in cell and tissue development under normal and stressful conditions.”