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School of the Biological Sciences

Rapid advances in technology over recent years have given scientists the ability to sequence genomes and other molecules at unprecedented speed and scales.  The Functional and Evolutionary Genomics Theme brings together more than 70 Cambridge researchers who are using cutting edge methods to advance our understanding of the genomic basis of life, from molecules to populations and across evolutionary timescales.  The broad range of expertise involved in working collaboratively at the interface between disciplines enables new approaches to the most challenging and fundamental genomics research questions to be explored.  The Functional and Evolutionary Genomics Research Theme provides a powerful approach to biological discovery with implications for health, agriculture, ecology, biotechnology and beyond. 

Recent Discoveries

Clues to treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder found in recently evolved region of the ‘dark genome’

Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are debilitating mental disorders that are hard to diagnose and treat. Despite being amongst the most heritable mental health disorders, very few clues to their cause have been found in the sections of our DNA known as genes.

Scientists investigating the DNA outside our genes - the ‘dark genome’ - have discovered recently evolved regions that code for proteins associated with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. They say these new proteins can be used as biological indicators to distinguish between the two conditions, and to identify patients more prone to psychosis or suicide. Read



Set up for Life

We’re used to the idea that as adults we have some control over our destiny: what we eat and drink and how much we exercise can affect our health. But the risks of heart disease and diabetes can be programmed much earlier – even before we are born.

Just as diet, smoking and exercise affect our health as adults, so too can they affect the unborn baby while it is in the womb. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that the environment of these earliest months of life can also affect our long-term health, and even the health of our grandchildren, as Professors Abby Fowden, Dino Giussani and Anne Ferguson-Smith describe. Read


Wider Impact

Targeting malaria mosquitos in Africa

Malaria remains one of the world’s major infectious diseases, responsible for approximately 405,000 deaths in 2018, with 94% of these in sub-Saharan Africa, and with an estimated annual economic impact of $12 billion in Africa alone (World Health Organization World Malaria Report 2019).

Target Malaria, a not-for-profit research consortium working across four countries in Africa, explored the use of ‘gene drive’ to control insect disease vectors. As part of this, Steven Russell’s lab at the University of Cambridge showed for the first time in 2011 that gene drive technology (a process that promotes the inheritance of specific genes from generation to generation) could work in an animal. They established novel gene drive systems that were implemented effectively in Anopheles mosquitos, the vector for the malaria parasite. Read

Theme Leads

Michael Boemo


Ian Henderson

Plant Sciences

Anna Protasio


Aylwyn Scally


Learn More

Members of the School can find out more about the Research Themes on the School Information Hub.

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