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Former Oxford Biochemistry student wins top CRUK prize

Anca Farcas, former DPhil student with Rob Klose, is the joint winner of CRUK’s 2014 Pontecorvo Prize.

The prize is awarded to the CRUK-funded student who has produced the best PhD thesis and made the most outstanding contribution to scientific knowledge in their field of research for that year. The student is also expected to have shown that they have made a strong original contribution to the direction of the research.

Anca submitted her DPhil, ‘KDM2B links recognition of CpG islands to polycomb domain formation in vivo‘, in January 2014 and passed her viva voce in March 2014 without any corrections.

Her studies shed light on how mammals use chromatin-based processes to lay down the very earliest transcriptional patterns for development. With her colleagues, she provided evidence for a link between the polycomb proteins, a highly conserved family of proteins essential for gene silencing, and recognition of the characteristic non-methylated regions of DNA in mammalian genomes known as CpG islands.

The work, published in the first issue of eLife, was followed by another paper in Cell two years later where Anca and postdoc Neil Blackledge revealed a new and unexpected mechanism for polycomb group protein targeting. Anca stayed on in Rob Klose’s lab until November 2014 to finish some further exciting work that is being continued by others in the lab.

Anca is now at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried, working in the lab of Juerg Mueller. She will be combining structural biology with functional tests based on genetic approaches in Drosophila to understand the mechanisms by which Polycomb repressive complex 1 (PRC1) carries out its repressive function.

Anca farcas

Anca is honoured to be the recipient of this prestigious prize, calling it ‘a great ending to four years of hard work‘.

She adds: ‘I had a fantastic DPhil experience working in the group of Rob Klose. I was surrounded by good friends and great scientists from whom I benefited and learnt about how to overcome the difficulties inherent to a DPhil. Importantly, my DPhil work wouldn’t have been possible without the generous support from CRUK.’

The panel of judges commended Anca’s elegant studies that have collectively helped to reshape our understanding of how the polycomb chromatin modifying system is targeted to defined sites in the genome, and was very impressed by her productivity.

By Jane Itzhaki, Department of Biochemistry