Professor Julian Blow

FRSE FMedSci

Dean

Life Sciences Office, School of Life Sciences

Professor of Chromosome Maintenance

Gene Regulation and Expression, School of Life Sciences

Portrait photo of Julian Blow
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Contact

Email

j.j.blow@dundee.ac.uk

Phone

+44 (0)1382 385797

Locations

Wellcome Trust Biocentre

Websites

Google Scholar

Biography

Professor Julian Blow is Dean of the School of Life Sciences. In this role he aims to enhance the excellence of the School’s activities: its outstanding biological and biomedical research, its high quality teaching and student experience, and the strong impact of its activities outside academia. To achieve this, he sees his primary role as an enabling one, allowing colleagues across the many disciplines in the School to thrive and maximize the impact of their work for educational, healthcare and economic benefit.

As Professor of Chromosome Maintenance, Julian is also an active researcher. He was awarded his PhD from the University of Cambridge, UK, in 1987 from the lab of Professor Ron Laskey and then worked as a postdoctoral fellow with Professor Paul Nurse at the University of Oxford. In 1991 Julian set up his own research lab at the ICRF Clare Hall Laboratories where he was promoted to Senior Scientist. He moved to Dundee in 1997.

In 2012, Julian became Director of the Centre for Gene Regulation and Expression. He was appointed Director of Research for the School of Life Sciences in 2014 and he became Dean of School in 2016. Between March 2020 and September 2021, Julian was Interim Vice-Principal (Academic Planning and Performance) and a member of the University Executive Group. Julian returned to his role as Dean in December 2021.

Julian is a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a Member of the European Molecular Biology Organization, and Chair of the Lister Institute Scientific Advisory Committee.

Research

The Blow lab are studying the signals that our cells use to control replication of their DNA, and how failures in this process can lead to diseases such as cancer.

When a cell divides, its genetic material residing in the chromosomes is copied. Although this may sound simple, it is very complicated and tightly controlled. All the chromosomes need to be copied in their entirety with the minimum of errors. One key control mechanism is called “licensing”. Licensing acts as a marker for where the copying must start. Without it, the genetic material is not copied. When the copying starts, the marker (license) is removed. This stops the genetic material from being copied more than once.

Sometimes mistakes are made in the copying process, which can cause irreversible genetic changes. Some of the changes may have no effect, but others may lead to cells becoming cancerous. The “licensing” control mechanism is often faulty in many early-stage cancer cells. This suggests that it is an important control system for cancer cells to evade.

The lab are interested in how the genetic copying process occurs and is controlled. They hope that their work provides a better understanding of how DNA replication works and could help lead to exciting innovative ideas for future anti-cancer treatments.

The lab uses a range of experimental approaches, but focuses mainly on extracts of frog eggs which faithfully recreate in a test tube the major activities that occur when a cell divides, including the duplication of chromosomes. The use of frog egg extracts provides unparalleled opportunities to study these processes using cutting-edge biochemical techniques. The lab also has expertise in using computer modeling to simulate cell division activities which can then be compared with biochemical results.

    Diagram of the geminin cycle

    Figure: Cartoon of major events in the cell division cycle. The DNA in a single chromosome (curved black line) is shown passing through the four cell cycle stages of G1, S phase (S), G2 and mitosis (M). During late mitosis and G1, the licensing system is active and MCM2-7 hexamers (blue) are loaded onto DNA at sites where replication (copying) will start. At other cell cycle phases, the licensing system is inactive (for example by the expression of the licensing inhibitor geminin); this is crucial to ensure that replicated DNA does not become re-licensed and hence re-replicated. Driven by the increase in CDK activity during S phase, MCM2-7 hexamers are transformed into CMG helicases that drive the copying process (pink). By G2 phase, all the DNA has been replicated and all MCM2-7 hexamers have been displaced from the DNA. During mitosis, the DNA condenses into paired chromatids that are segregated to the two daughter cells.

    Selected publications

    View full research profile and publications

    Stories

    Research interests

    How DNA replication is organised and controlled to ensure precise chromosome duplication

    Awards

    Award Year
    Fellows of the Academy of Medical Sciences 2012
    Major Personal Funding Awards / Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award 2009
    Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 2002
    Members of the European Molecular Biology Organisation 1999