Sunderland academic wins Darwin Medal for work on evolution

A Sunderland man has won a prestigious science award for vital work on the evolution of all living things, including humans.

Martin Embley, 65, has won the Darwin Medal from the Royal Society for his laboratory’s work over 30 years. It looked at how every living thing on the planet evolved from the biological group called eukaryotes.

Martin, a Professor at Newcastle University and Sunderland AFC season ticket holder, said: “I feel tremendously proud to receive the Darwin Medal from the Royal Society.

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"It is a real honour and something I never expected to receive. However, it is also important to recognise that modern science is very collaborative and no one individual can claim all of the credit for any particular discovery. It really has been a team effort.”

Sunderland man and Newcastle University Professor Martin Embley.

Martin was brought up on Hylton Castle Estate. He went to Woodside Infants School and then Castle View Junior Boys School.

The 11-plus exam

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His family moved to Witherwack when he was 12 and Martin went to Monkwearmouth Grammar School after he passed his 11-plus exam in 1968.

After A-levels, he left Sunderland to study Biology in Manchester for four years, then moved to Newcastle University for a PhD before working as a Research

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Scientist at the Natural History Museum until 2004.

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That’s when he moved back to Sunderland and started a job as Professor at Newcastle University.

Martin said: “I am a keen football fan and have a season ticket to watch Sunderland; the team I have supported since my first match at Roker Park in the late 1960s.”

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He explained why he won the award and said: “My lab has studied the evolution of eukaryotes using DNA analyses and cell biology."

Vital research into all beings

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“Eukaryotes are the biological group that contains humans and all animals and plants, so our work is relevant to understanding the evolution of every living thing we can see around us.

“We have also worked on important components of eukaryotes called mitochondria. Mitochondria make all of the essential energy that humans and other eukaryotes need to grow and survive. The Darwin Medal was awarded for discoveries from my research group over 30 years on both of these topics.”

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The Darwin Medal was created in memory of Charles Darwin and was first awarded in 1890.