Peter A. Lawrence
awarded Developmental Biology-SDB Lifetime Achievement Award
Peter A. Lawrence
was awarded the 2011 Developmental Biology-SDB Lifetime Achievement Award for his
sustained contributions to the field of developmental biology.
Lawrence, an investigator at the University of Cambridge, Department of Zoology and emeritus scientist at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, has spent his career studying pattern formation and how cells achieve their identity during development.
Lawrence has received numerous scientific accolades including an elected member of the European Molecular Biology Organization, Fellow of the Royal Society, Fellow of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and a recipient of the Waddington Medal from the British Society for Developmental Biology.
appreciation to the SDB
for this award in an interview in April.
"[It] was very nice of them," he
Lawrence began his scientific career in 1962 as a graduate student under renowned entomologist Vincent Wigglesworth at the University of Cambridge.
this is a scientific question that you'd like to answer, may never answer, but that drives your research career.
spent two years at the University of Cambridge
prior to being recruited to the MRC
by Francis Crick and Sydney Brenner in 1969 ( Garwood, 2011 ). In 2006, he
retired from the MRC
and moved his
lab to the University of Cambridge
scientific career began decades before.
For nearly fifty years, Lawrence
has tackled pattern formation from many directions.
was instrumental in clarifying Antonio Garcia-Bellido's compartment hypothesis determining the role of engrailed in establishing posterior compartment identity in Drosophila embryonic body segments and adult appendages.
early days, Lawrence
has studied cell polarity in various insects to learn how a cell knows to orient itself in one direction over another.
Much of this work has been done examining hair and bristle growth along the Drosophila abdomen.
Over the years, Lawrence has maintained a small lab with rarely more than one graduate student at a time.
Asked about his
mentoring style, Lawrence
said, "I think that you should give your people as much independence as they can take.
This was how he
start as a graduate student under Wigglesworth.
"I had to find my own project and work on it.
I relished that independence and freedom, and the knowledge that whatever I did would be mine," he
Like Wigglesworth, Lawrence
does not put his
name on his
students' and postdocs' papers unless he
has actually done some of the work.
"...[W]hen I started out, that was a more standard practice.
Based on this belief system, Lawrence
has continued to work at the bench throughout his
"...I think that's been good.
I think I find that very rewarding to be able to depend on your own work."
For students and postdocs trying to make their way in science, Lawrence
said it is important for them to be themselves.
"... [P]eople often make a mistake.
They look at somebody who's a very successful scientist and use that person as a role model and they try and do what that person is doing, but they forget the most important part of the equation is your own characteristics and what you're good at."
"...I think it's important to do what you're good at," he
"I mainly like microscopy.
I don't like anything that's too intellectually demanding, so I tend to leave the detailed model building to my colleagues..." Lawrence
also doesn't do molecular biology as he
finds pipetting quite boring.
"clarity of thinking and criticism at the second floor cell and developmental biology meetings" had an impact on his
In the past 10 years, Lawrence
has written many commentaries on ethics, the responsibilities of scientists in society, and critiques on the current research system ( see Garwood, 2011 for overview).
began to speak out on these social aspects of scientific research in response to feedback he
received following a lecture he
gave honoring his
mentor, Vincent Wigglesworth.
In it, he
not only spoke of Wigglesworth's science, but "how he
life to advance knowledge."
The response from students was tremendous and he
thought, "Perhaps there's a need for somebody to speak for the young people and the situation that they find themselves in as they start working in a career in science," he
continues to speak out on these social issues, but he
said, "My number one interest has always been the biology."
Developmental Biology-SDB Lifetime Achievement Award: Peter A. Lawrence