The revelation came when Sir Paul Nurse, now 61, applied to the US Department of Homeland Security for a green card which would allow him permanent residence in the US. He was told there was a problem with the short-form version of his birth certificate, which did not contain the names of his parents, so he applied for a fuller version.

‘When it arrived my secretary asked me if I’d made a mistake with my mother’s name. I said, “Of course not.” She handed it to me and for the next few seconds I was totally dumbstruck. ‘I saw that next to the word “mother” was my sister Miriam’s name, and next to “father” was just a dash. I didn’t believe it at first: I assumed it was a bureaucratic mix-up.’

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