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School of the Biological Sciences


Following extensive consultation, Spring 2021 saw the establishment of six new cross-cutting Research Themes in the School of Biological Sciences, designed to provide research integration across the School, encourage new conversations and enhance interdisciplinary networking critical for major innovation.

To facilitate interactions, Research Themes are currently developing Grand Challenge focus topics which are scientifically ambitious, naturally span disciplines, and can be developed towards collaborative grant proposals and philanthropic engagement.

Overarching Aims

  • Promote collaboration and interaction across traditional Departmental boundaries
  • Contribute to a research culture that is inclusive and supportive
  • Increase opportunities for involvement in major funding bids
  • Enhance targeted philanthropy and industrial engagement

Research Themes - Annual Report 2023/24

A comprehensive update and progress on Research Theme activities over the last year can be found in the report 'Research Themes: Annual Report 2023-24'.


Our Research Themes and Leadership Teams

  Molecules and Cells: The Building Blocks of Life

  James Edgar, Pathology  
  Graham Ladds, Pharmacology  
  Ritwick Sawarkar, MRC Toxicology Unit
  Katherine Stott, Biochemistry


All life around us, from bacteria and viruses to plants and animals, is made up of molecules and cells. How these units of life work together to make individuals as complex as ourselves is a key question to our understanding of health and disease.  The Molecules and Cells Research Theme brings together more than 140 leading scientists to share knowledge and ideas across disciplinary boundaries to advance our understanding of the rules of life. 

Current areas of focus include: DNA and chromatin; RNA and proteins; Cellular pathways and signalling; Cellular organisation and dynamics; Cell physiology and behaviour; Chemical biology and protein engineering.

  Infection and Immunity

  Kate Baker, Genetics  
  Cinzia Cantacessi, Veterinary Medicine
  Brian Ferguson, Pathology 
  Stephen Graham, Pathology
  Jeanne Salje, Biochemistry and Pathology 


Biology is a constant struggle between pathogens that seek to exploit the resources of their hosts, and host immune systems that seek to prevent this. Over 80 leading scientists in the Infection and Immunity Research Theme study multiple facets of infection and immunity, ranging from the functions of individual host or pathogen proteins, and of specific immune cells in the body, through to population-scale studies of infectious disease spread. This research contributes to some of the biggest questions we face in the 21st century: Can we prevent the next pandemic before it occurs? Can malaria and tuberculosis be consigned to the history books? How can we harness the immune system to fight diseases like cancer? Research by Infection and Immunity Theme members will provide fundamental insights into immune system function and the biology of pathogens, underpinning the development of new therapies to improve human and animal health, and helping safeguard the crops on which we depend.

Current areas of focus include: Understanding the Immune System to Treat Disease; Changing Pathogens in a Changing World; The molecular interface between pathogens and hosts.

  Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour

  David Bulmer, Pharmacology 
  Hannah Clarke, Physiology, Development and Neuroscience
  Rebecca Lawson, Psychology
  Amy Milton, Psychology


Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour are three pillars of research that allow us to address questions on how the nervous system works, the changes that drive psychological and neurological disorders, and understand how and why animals and humans interact with the world around them. The Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour Research Theme brings together more than 80 interdisciplinary scientists studying all aspects of the nervous system and behaviour, from the biology of individual nerve cells through to the function of the brain and nervous system including vision, hearing, cognition, pain, memory, addiction, and social and group behaviours. Grouping neuroscientists, experimental and social psychologists and behaviourists from a range of research backgrounds provides a unique opportunity to push the boundaries in these fields to understand how the nervous system is structurally and functionally interlinked with the living body and the wider world.

  Functional and Evolutionary Genomics

  Alexandre Almeida, Veterinary Medicine  
  Ian Henderson, Plant Sciences
  Aylwyn Scally, Genetics
  Lucy Weinert, Veterinary Medicine


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.

  Reproduction, Development and Lifelong Health

  Alex Cagan, Genetics, Pathology, and Veterinary Medicine
  Amanda Sferruzzi-Perri, Physiology, Development and Neuroscience
  Ben Steventon, Genetics
  Mekayla Storer, Cambridge Stem Cell Institute 



From the moment we are conceived and throughout life, our cells and tissues encounter various challenges that impact our health. Members of our theme study normal and disrupted developmental processes with the aim of living healthy for longer, and improving reproductive health. With over 80 different research groups focusing on topics ranging from reproduction to cancer and using invertebrate, vertebrate and plant models we are in a unique position to realise our aim.

  Organisms, Evolution and Planetary Resilience

  Emília Santos, Zoology



How do new species arise? What makes living organisms so diverse? How do plants and animals function in different environments? What drives some species to extinction whilst others thrive?  These are just some of the questions at the heart of the Organisms, Evolution and Ecology Research Theme which brings together over 70 leading researchers from across 10 different Departments and Institutes around Cambridge. Integrating theory, mathematical principles and engineering with biological research to address these questions will allow us to understand the mechanisms that underpin how organisms interact with the world around them and how the environment can influence the development of organisms through time. Working together, our researchers are making ground-breaking impacts on sustainability, biodiversity, ecosystem engineering, global change, biological engineering and food security.

Members of the School can find specific information about the Research Themes and other areas of interest on the School Information Hub.