Professor Koopman earned his PhD from the University of Melbourne in 1986 for research on stem cell differentiation. He moved to London soon afterwards for a postdoctoral appointment in the Mammalian Development Unit at the Medical Research Council, where he conducted medical analyses of mouse embryo development. During a second postdoc, with the National Institute for Medical Research, he was part of the team who isolated the mouse Y-chromosome gene (now known as SRY) and demonstrated its role in sex determination by reversing the sex of XX-chromosome mice. The discovery is widely regarded as one of the major achievements in molecular genetics of the 20th century.

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