Biological Sciences

Symposium held to mark Jean Beggs retirement

A symposium ‘From DNA to RNA synthesis, Processing and Cancer’ took place to mark the retirement of Jean Beggs Professor of Molecular Biology in the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology.

Speakers at Jean Begg's Symposium
Speakers at Jean Begg's Symposium

The one-day symposium took place at Pollock Halls Edinburgh on 8th November 2019 and included talks by eminent scientists who have been Jean's colleagues, collaborators and inspiration.

The speakers, including Jean Beggs, are world experts in their research areas and included several big names in the RNA, DNA repair and cancer fields.

The programme included a Max Planck Director, five Fellows of the Royal Society, and Joan Steitz, who is a Foreign Member of the Royal Society, Member of the US National Academy of Sciences and recipient of the prestigious Gairdner Award 2018.


Jean is recognised for her many innovative contributions in the field of RNA biology and was a pioneer of recombinant DNA technology in the 1970’s.

Defects in RNA functions are involved in human diseases, including heart disease, cancers and muscular dystrophies.


What is RNA?

RNA is a molecule, similar to DNA that is essential for gene expression. The coding information in a gene is copied into RNA in a process called transcription. 

Initially considered a “messenger” that only carries the instructions to make proteins, in recent years it has proved to be more versatile - participating in many processes within cells.

Jean has a long history of innovative work combining genetic, biochemical and metabolic tools and her main research interest was a process called RNA splicing.   

RNA Splicing

Many genes have their coding sequence interrupted by non-coding regions (introns) that are also initially present in the RNA copy.  

During RNA splicing, introns are removed from RNA to produce an uninterrupted coding sequence that is suitable for producing proteins.  

This process is highly conserved in all complex cells, from yeast to humans, and yeast provide a simple but powerful model system to study the splicing mechanism.  

Jean identified many splicing factors in yeast, including detailed studies of the splicing factor Prp8 that when mutated causes retinitis pigmentosa, a form of blindness in humans.

Alumni - Jean Beggs Research Group
Alumni - Jean Beggs Research Group

She also coordinated a European consortium, “RiboSys”, to develop more precise analyses of the dynamics of RNA metabolism.

This research produced data that illustrated how the splicing and transcription processes are coupled, happening almost simultaneously, and how changes in one affect the other.


Jean studied at the University of Glasgow, graduating with a BSc (Hons) in Biochemistry in 1971, and a PhD in 1974.

She joined the School of Biological Sciences in 1974 and held a postdoctoral position in the Department of Molecular Biology working with Professors Kenneth and Noreen Murray.

Jean moved to the Plant Breeding Institute in Cambridge in 1977, and two years later she began work as a lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry at Imperial College London.

She returned to the School’s Molecular Biology department in 1985, where she was appointed Professor of Molecular Biology in 1999 and continued her work in the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology until her retirement in June 2019.



  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1995)  
  • Fellow of the Royal Society (1998)
  • Royal Society's Gabor Medal (2003)
  • RNA Society Outstanding Service Award (2005)
  • CBE - Queen's Birthday Honours for her services to science (2006)
  • Royal Society of Edinburgh Vice President for Life Sciences (2009 to 2012)
  • Honorary DSc by the University of St Andrews (2016)
  • RNA Society Lifetime Achievement Award (2018)
  • Royal Society Darwin Trust Research Professorship

Related Links

Professor Jean Beggs receives RNA Society 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award

Symposium : From DNA to RNA synthesis, Processing and Cancer

Jean Beggs – Wikipedia

Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology