Paris, 18 september 2013

Developmental biologist Margaret Buckingham is awarded the 2013 CNRS Gold Medal

The CNRS Gold Medal, France's most prestigious scientific distinction, has been awarded this year to the developmental biologist Margaret Buckingham, exceptional grade senior researcher emeritus at CNRS and professor emeritus at the Institut Pasteur. Her research work has led to important advances in the field of myogenesis (muscle formation), cardiogenesis (formation of the heart) and stem cells in embryos and adults. In addition to their contribution to fundamental knowledge, her discoveries will have a major impact, in particular on muscular regeneration therapies and on the understanding of congenital cardiac malformations in humans. The CNRS Gold Medal will be awarded in public for the first time on Thursday, November 14, at 7:00pm (CEST), to coincide with the launch of "Les Fondamentales", the new CNRS forum, which will be held at La Sorbonne in Paris on November 14-16.

Scottish by birth, Buckingham has dual French-British nationality. Born on March 2, 1945, she graduated from Oxford University (UK) before obtaining her PhD in biology in 1971. From 1971 to 1974, she completed a postdoc in France at the Institut Pasteur under the supervision of Professor François Gros. In 1975, she joined CNRS and set up an autonomous research team. She was appointed senior researcher at CNRS in 1981 and professor at the Institut Pasteur in 1992, while continuing her research work at CNRS. From 1987 to 2010, she was head of the “Génétique Moléculaire du Développement” laboratory at the Institut Pasteur. She headed the “Biologie Moléculaire” department from 1990 to 1994 and the “Biologie du Développement” department between 2002 and 2006 at the Institut Pasteur.

Buckingham is a prominent figure in developmental biology research in the field of muscle and heart formation. Her work also touches on stem cells in embryos and adults. She first discovered how the genes of actin and myosin, two proteins essential for muscle contraction, are controlled. Using genetic manipulations in mice, she then showed that the embryonic cells that will form adult muscles undergo a key step, which irreversibly determines their destiny in muscle differentiation. This takes place well before the cells adopt the characteristics of muscle cells. She later discovered a pair of genes (Pax3/Pax7) whose role is essential in maintaining a population of muscle stem cells in the embryo. In 2005, she managed with her team to isolate stem cells of the adult skeletal muscle — known as satellite cells — in mice and to demonstrate their potential in muscular regeneration. Finally, in the field of cardiogenesis, she overhauled the commonly accepted vision of cardiac development through the discovery of a second induction field of the heart and by focusing on the clonal origins of heart-forming cell populations.

Buckingham, who was awarded the CNRS Silver Medal in 1999, is a member of the French Académie des Sciences and the United States National Academy of Sciences. She has also been a member of the UK Royal Society since 2013 and the Academia Europaea since 1998. She received the Prix Jaffé of the Académie des Sciences in 1990 and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Society for Developmental Biology in 2010. Appointed Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur in 2002, Buckingham was promoted to the grade of Officier de l'Ordre National du Mérite in 2008.

The CNRS Gold Medal is France's highest scientific distinction. Since its creation in 1954, it has been awarded each year for the body of work of a leading scientist who has made an outstanding contribution to the vitality and influence of French research.

Recent Gold Medal winners are Pierre Bourdieu, sociologist, in 1993; Claude Allègre, global physicist, in 1994; Claude Hagège, linguist, in 1995; Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, physicist, in 1996; Jean Rouxel, chemist, in 1997; Pierre Potier, chemist, in 1998; Jean-Claude Risset, in computer music, in 1999; Michel Lazdunski, biochemist, in 2000; Maurice Godelier, anthropologist, in 2001; Claude Lorius and Jean Jouzel, in climatology, in 2002; Albert Fert, physicist, in 2003; Alain Connes, mathematician, in 2004; Alain Aspect, physicist in 2005; Jacques Stern, computer scientist, in 2006; Jean Tirole, economist in 2007; Jean Weissenbach, geneticist in 2008; Serge Haroche, physicist in 2009; Gérard Férey, chemist in 2010; Jules Hoffmann, biologist in 2011 and Philippe Descola, anthropologist in 2012.


© Institut Pasteur/ François Gardy (This photograph is available at the CNRS Photo Library:

© CNRS images


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