Luke Yates

Graduate Research Prize Winners 2013

Luke Yates photoDuring my formative years at a comprehensive school in Hampshire I was far more interested in art and design than science, in which I  was a distinctly average student. However, as I progressed to 6th Form College, I became increasingly interested in science and understanding the fine details of the biological systems of nature.  This interest eventually led me to enrol on a Bachelor’s degree in Pharmacology at the University of Southampton. I very quickly became fascinated with the complexity and precision of physiology and molecular systems within the cell during my undergraduate studies. My amazement with biology together with my deep-seated curiosity allowed me to engage fully with my studies and I graduated top of my class in 2007.

What struck me the most during my pharmacology degree was the molecular basis of drug:target interactions, which, to an extent, explained their therapeutic effects. From that I became increasingly aware of structural biology and how it would allow structure-based drug design and, potentially, new therapies. To this end, I was fortunate enough to undertake structural biology research concerned with enzymes involved in tetrapyrrole biosynthesis within Prof. Jon Cooper and Prof. Steve Wood’s laboratory at the School of Biological Sciences, Southampton, as part of a summer studentship and then as part of my dissertation research. I thoroughly enjoyed these experiences and, having caught the ‘research bug’, I began thinking about pursuing a PhD.

I applied for an NDM (MRC-funded) graduate studentship in 2006 but was unsuccessful in that round of applications. A few months later, Dr. Robert Gilbert in the Division of Structural Biology (Strubi) contacted me to ask if I would like my application to be considered again. This time I successfully secured a place and, in 2007, I began reading for a DPhil in Clinical Medicine at Merton College and undertook my graduate research within Strubi. I investigated, using X-ray crystallography, the structural basis for the activity of a cytoplasmic uridylyltransferase enzyme, Cid1, which is responsible for a newly emerging mechanism of post-transcriptional control, regulating mRNA turnover in yeast but also microRNA maturation in humans and other metazoans. This research was presented at a number of conferences, including the OCRC Symposium, and more recently as a talk at the EMBO ‘Protein Synthesis and Translational Control’ conference in Heidelberg this year. 

Throughout my DPhil studies my late wife, Samantha, was a tremendous inspiration. Despite facing immeasurably difficult circumstances, her tenacity and determination inspired me. During the last few years of my DPhil Samantha and I campaigned for organ donation, appearing on the BBC national news and ITV, as well as BBC radio Oxford and in local newspapers, in order to raise awareness. Samantha’s love, support and encouragement has allowed me to achieve a great deal and I dedicate this award to her memory.



*equal contribution, Recommended by the Faculty of 1000 (