Category Archives: Research themes

Human evolutionary history

Tyler-Smith Group | Sanger Institute

Cambridge is particularly strong in human population genetics and evolution.  The Welcome Trust Sanger Institute, based at Hinxton just outside Cambridge, was the main European centre involved in sequencing of the human genome and is now leading efforts to characterize genetic variation in human genomes. Chris Tyler-Smith works at WTSI and uses genome-scale population genetic data for humans to study their origins and search for functional genetic variants.

Goldman Group | European Bioinformatics Institute

At the European Bioinformatics Institute, Nick Goldman’s group develop mathematical models for analysis of genome scale sequence data, including phylogenetic reconstruction and analysis of molecular evolution.

Amos Manica  | Department of Zoology

Work by Bill Amos and Andrea Manica, based in the Department of Zoology, has characterised human genetic variation, providing striking evidence for a decline in human genetic and morphological variation during the migration out of Africa.

Peter Forster 

Peter Forster works on human genetic ancestry especially using mitochondrial and Y-chromosome markers.

Kivisild Group | Division of Biological Anthropology

Toomas Kivisild, at the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolution, similarly studies the origins of modern human populations mainly in South Asia.

Parasite and pathogen genetics

The Pathogen Evolution Group, based in the Department of Zoology, work on virus evolution, in particular the genetic history of human flu epidemics.   Simon Frost, in the Cambridge Vet School, uses mathematical and statistical modeling to understanding the dynamics and evolution of infectious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis C and influenza.

Frank Jiggins’ group, based in the Department of Genetics, work on the genetics of host-parasite coevolution mainly in Drosophila.  This has provided striking evidence for rapid evolution of genes involved in immunity in the Drosophila genome.  The Ladybird Genetics Group, also in Genetics, work on the  adaptation of parasites to populations of the invasive Harlequin ladybird.

Lucy Weinert’s group at the Department of Veterinary Medicine study the ecology and genomics of bacterial pathogens. The group works on the evolution of virulence, bacterial host switching, antimicrobial resistance and vaccine development. Some recent questions include:

Why do bacterial pathogens have small genomes?

What are the ecological predictors of host switching success?

Which genomic changes accompany bacteria adapting to new hosts?

How well does bacterial genotype predict antibiotic resistance phenotype?

What is the genetic basis of bacterial virulence?


Akam Group | Department of Zoology

The Akam group, based in the Department of Zoology,  work on Hox genes and the evolution of fundamental body plan architecture in arthropods.  In particular work on the developmental genetics of segmentation in arthropods such as the centipede Strigamia have shed light on how the much better understood but very derived segmentation of the Drosophila embryo has arisen.

Pat Simpson | Department of Zoology

Pat Simpson works mainly on the evolution of thoracic bristle patterns in Drosophila.  This has led to insights into how particular genes, such as achaete-scute can play a key role in morphological evolution.

Glover Group | Department of Plant Sciences

Glover, based in Plant Sciences, work on flower development and its adaptive role in signalling to plant pollinators.  There is a particular interest in the role of cell shape and colour in adaptation to specific pollinator species.

Their main area of interest is the evolution and development of floral traits that are important in attracting animal pollinators. By understanding how plants build traits that attract particular animals the group aims to understand the diversification of the flowering plants.

The Glover group is particularly interested in petal characters such as colour, texture and insect-mimicking spots. They use a multidisciplinary approach integrating the use of molecular genetics, systematic and developmental techniques and incorporate this with our understanding of pollinator responses as studied in our bee behavioural facility in order to address questions of floral trait evolution.

Understanding plant-pollinator interactions in this integrated way provides us with tools to contribute to the design of strategies to protect biodiversity of plants and animals. This increased understanding of floral traits and pollinator attraction can allow for work towards optimization of pollinator attraction and contribute to food security.

Baker Group | Department of Physiology, Development & Neuroscience

Clare Baker’s lab, based in the Department of Physiology, Development & Neuroscience, works on the development and evolution of the vertebrate peripheral nervous system from neurogenic placodes and the neural crest, with a focus on sensory systems. Her lab uses embryos from a a wide range of species, including so far lamprey, shark, skate, paddlefish, sturgeon, catfish, zebrafish, axolotl, Xenopus, mouse and chick. One of the main current projects in her lab is the development and evolution of vertebrate lateral line electoreceptors.

Genetics of adaptation

Mundy Group | Department of Zoology

We are interested in dissecting the genetic basis of adaptive traits in natural populations.  The Mundy group, based in the Department of Zoology, work on vertebrates – mainly primates and birds – and study a diverse range of traits from pigmentation to brain size evolution.  In particular the evolution of genes in the melanin pathway such as MC1R and Agouti have provided some of the best examples of molecular adaptation in natural populations.

Jiggins Group | Department of Zoology

Chris Jiggins’ group, also in Zoology, work on insects, studying traits including butterfly wing patterns and insecticide resistance in crop pests.  Butterfly mimicry in particular provides an elegant system for studying the repeatability of evolution, whereby multiple lineages have converged on very similar phenotypes.

Kivisild Group | Department of Archaeology and Anthropology

Toomas Kivisild’s group, based in the Henry Wellcome Building, Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, study the genetic history of human populations in the Old and New Worlds. A substantial part of this work is based on comparisons of genome sequence data drawn from living individuals and ancient DNA from human remains taken from archaeological context. A principle focus is on genome-wide evidence of selection in human populations. They use tests of positive and purifying selection to study the effect of extremes of environmental conditions (cold and high altitude) as well as differences in diet and life style on human genetic variation.