R. Timothy (Tim) Hunt
It was in 1882 that Walther Flemming published drawings of chromosomes lining up in mitosis and parting equally to the daughters of cell division, and 20 years later that Theodor Boveri explained the significance of the chromosome dance in terms of the distribution of information. He based his interpretation on what happened in cases of lost information, proposing a theory of cancer that has lasted surprisingly well to this day. Not until after WWII was the chemical structure of DNA established, and its role in heredity accepted. The definition of the cell division cycle, with its alternating phases of chromosome replication and segregation (and gaps in between) dates from the same era. Not until the late 1960s and early 1970s did anyone begin to understand how the cell cycle was controlled, although a large literature accumulated about the mechanics of cell division. My own involvement in this field came about by accident in the early 1980s while I was trying to understand the control of protein synthesis in sea urchin eggs, and I discovered the cyclins, translationally regulated proteins that undergo rapid periodic destruction as fertilized eggs of sea urchins and clams divide to form embryos. The cyclins eventually proved to be the activating subunits of a protein kinase that can be thought of as the master regulator of the cell cycle and today we understand this regulation in very considerable depth and detail, although many deep mysteries remain. I'll talk about how we know what we know and what we'd like to know and how understanding the control of the cell cycle relates to the all-important subject of understanding and treating cancer.