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Adrian Bird

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Sir Adrian Peter Bird, CBE FRS FRSE is a British geneticist and Buchanan Professor of Genetics at the University of Edinburgh Bird has spent much of his academic career in Edinburgh, from receiving his PhD in 1970 to working at the MRC Mammalian Genome Unit and later serving as director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology His research focuses on understanding DNA methylation and CpG islands, and their role in diseases such as Rett syndrome[16]


  • 1 Education and early life
  • 2 Career
  • 3 Research
  • 4 Awards and honours
  • 5 Personal life
  • 6 References

Education and early life

Bird was born in Wolverhampton, England, but from age four lived in the town of Kidderminster, near Birmingham[17] He attended a grammar school in Hartlebury, achieving grades CCD for his A-level results Whilst at school Bird played cricket and hockey for a local team[17] Bird received his PhD[13] from the University of Edinburgh in 1970 for research supervised by Max Birnstiel[13], following undergraduate study of Biochemistry at the University of Sussex[12]


Following his PhD, Bird went on to postdoctoral research positions, first at Yale University with Joseph G Gall, and then at the University of Zurich before returning to Edinburgh in 1975 to work at the MRC Mammalian Genome Unit, where he would stay for 11 years[18][19] It was here that Bird, along with Edwin Southern, mapped the methylation status of CpG dinucleotides along ribosomal RNA in the African clawed frog[18][20] From 1987 to 1990 Bird continued his research at the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna

In 1990, Adrian Bird became Buchanan Professor of Genetics at the University of Edinburgh He helped create the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology, also in Edinburgh, and served as its director from 1999 until 2011, when he was succeeded by David Tollervey[21] From 2000 to 2010, he was also a governor of the Wellcome Trust, serving as deputy chairman during the latter three years[21][22]


Adrian Bird's research has focused on CpG islands and their associated binding-factor MeCP2[23] He led the team which first identified CpG islands—originally named "HpaII tiny fragments"[18]—in vertebrate genomes These are short genomic regions with a high density of CpG dinucleotides, and are commonly found in an unmethylated state within or nearby to an active gene's promoter

Bird's group discovered that the MeCP2 protein binds specifically to methylated CpG sites, and further that disruption of this interaction causes the autism spectrum disorder Rett syndrome The Bird lab also implicated nuclear receptor co-repressor 1 as an important binding partner in the MeCP2/methyl-CpG interaction[23]

In 2007 the Bird laboratory published a paper in the journal Science[24] describing a proof-of-principle that the murine equivalent of Rett syndrome could be successfully reversed in laboratory mice[25] This was accomplished by reintroducing a functional MeCP2 gene and proved successful even when the condition was at an advanced stage, hinting at the possibility of a gene therapy approach to curing the human disease in the future[25][26]

Awards and honours

Bird has received a number of awards, such as the 2011 Gairdner Foundation International Award and 2012 Royal Society GlaxoSmithKline Prize, and he was knighted in the 2014 New Year Honours list In 2013, he was named a Thomson Reuters Citation Laureate

Bird was awarded the Gabor Medal in 1999 "in recognition of his pioneering work in the study of global mechanisms by which transcription of the mammalian genome is regulated and for his exploration into the molecular basis of fundamental biological mechanisms, particularly his development of ways of analysing methylation patterns of eukaryotic DNA using endonucleases and the discovery of and continued research into a new class of DNA sequences found in all vertebrates"[27] He received the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine in the same year,[22] and was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen's Birthday Honours in 2005 In 2011 he was a recipient of the Gairdner Foundation International Award, "for his pioneering discoveries on DNA methylation and its role in gene expression"[28] The following year Bird won the 2012 GlaxoSmithKline Prize[21]

In 2013, Bird was tipped as a potential winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for "fundamental discoveries concerning DNA methylation and gene expression"[29] though the prize later went to James Rothman, Randy Schekman and Thomas C Südhof He was knighted in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to science[30][31][32] Bird received the 2013 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Biomedicine "for his discoveries in the field of epigenetics"[19][33] Bird was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society FRS in 1989, his nomination reads:

In 2016 he was elected as a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences[34] and received the Shaw Prize together with Huda Y Zoghbi[35] In 2017 Bird received the Charles Rudolphe Brupbacher Prize[36]

Bird is a trustee of the charitable organisation Cancer Research UK and of the Rett Syndrome Research Trust[21][37] He also serves as a Governance Board Member of the Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre[38]

Personal life

Adrian Bird is married to fellow geneticist Cathy Abbott and has four children[17][18] At age 66, Bird was quoted as having no plans to retire, saying "we are still funded well and our work is still published in journals and as long as that continues, so will I"[17]


  1. ^ a b BIRD, Sir Adrian Peter ukwhoswhocom Who's Who 2015 online Oxford University Press ed A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc  subscription required
  2. ^ "Professor Sir Adrian Bird CBE FRS FRSE FMedSci" Archived from the original on 2015-04-22 
  3. ^ a b "EC/1989/04: Bird, Adrian Peter" London: The Royal Society Archived from the original on 21 April 2015 
  4. ^ Jaenisch, R; Bird, A 2003 "Epigenetic regulation of gene expression: how the genome integrates intrinsic and environmental signals" Nature Genetics 33 Suppl 3s: 245–254 doi:101038/ng1089 PMID 12610534 
  5. ^ Bird, A 2007 "Perceptions of epigenetics" Nature 447 7143: 396–8 doi:101038/nature05913 PMID 17522671 
  6. ^ Bird, A P 1986 "CpG-rich islands and the function of DNA methylation" Nature 321 6067: 209–13 doi:101038/321209a0 PMID 2423876 
  7. ^ Bird, A 2002 "DNA methylation patterns and epigenetic memory" Genes & Development 16 1: 6–21 doi:101101/gad947102 PMID 11782440 
  8. ^ Bird, A P; Wolffe, A P 1999 "Methylation-induced repression--belts, braces, and chromatin" Cell 99 5: 451–4 doi:101016/s0092-86740081532-9 PMID 10589672 
  9. ^ Lewis, J D; Meehan, R R; Henzel, W J; Maurer-Fogy, I; Jeppesen, P; Klein, F; Bird, A 1992 "Purification, sequence, and cellular localization of a novel chromosomal protein that binds to methylated DNA" Cell 69 6: 905–14 doi:101016/0092-86749290610-O PMID 1606614 
  10. ^ Nan, X; Ng, H H; Johnson, C A; Laherty, C D; Turner, B M; Eisenman, R N; Bird, A 1998 "Transcriptional repression by the methyl-CpG-binding protein MeCP2 involves a histone deacetylase complex" Nature 393 6683: 386–9 doi:101038/30764 PMID 9620804 
  11. ^ Cheval, H; Guy, J; Merusi, C; De Sousa, D; Selfridge, J; Bird, A 2012 "Postnatal inactivation reveals enhanced requirement for MeCP2 at distinct age windows" Human Molecular Genetics 21 17: 3806–14 doi:101093/hmg/dds208 PMC 3412380  PMID 22653753 
  12. ^ a b "Professor Adrian Bird - Associate Faculty" Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute Archived from the original on 2015-04-07 
  13. ^ a b c Bird, Adrian 1972 The cytology and biochemistry of DNA amplification in the ovary of Xenopus laevis ethosbluk Thesis University of Edinburgh hdl:1842/11977 EThOS ukblethos641632 
  14. ^ a b Bird, A 2007 "Q&A: Adrian Bird" Current Biology 17 11: R393 doi:101016/jcub200703018 PMID 17600901 
  15. ^ Schatz, G 2015 "Max L Birnstiel 1933–2014" Cell 160: 11–12 doi:101016/jcell201412030 
  16. ^ Adrian Bird's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database, a service provided by Elsevier subscription required
  17. ^ a b c d Tomaney, William 2014-01-09 "Geneticist raised in Kidderminster happy with knighthood" The Shuttle Newsquest Archived from the original on 2014-02-02 
  18. ^ a b c d Bird, A 2009 "On the track of DNA methylation: An interview with Adrian Bird by Jane Gitschier" PLoS Genetics 5 10: e1000667 doi:101371/journalpgen1000667 PMC 2753650  PMID 19834538 
  19. ^ a b "BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards: Biomedicine 2013" BBVA Foundation Retrieved 2014-01-31 
  20. ^ Bird, A P; Southern, E M 1978 "Use of restriction enzymes to study eukaryotic DNA methylation: I The methylation pattern in ribosomal DNA from Xenopus laevis" Journal of Molecular Biology 118 1: 27–47 doi:101016/0022-28367890242-5 PMID 625056 
  21. ^ a b c d School of Biology Sciences 2014-01-07 "Knighthood for Adrian Bird" University of Edinburgh Retrieved 2014-01-18 
  22. ^ a b "Elite award for Adrian Bird, Buchanan Professor of Genetics at The University of Edinburgh" Edinburgh Science Triangle 2011-03-30 Archived from the original on 7 January 2014 Retrieved 2014-01-06 
  23. ^ a b "Adrian Bird" Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology Retrieved 2014-01-06 
  24. ^ Guy, J; Gan, J; Selfridge, J; Cobb, S; Bird, A 2007 "Reversal of neurological defects in a mouse model of Rett syndrome" Science 315 5815: 1143–7 doi:101126/science1138389 PMID 17289941 
  25. ^ a b "Professor Bird knighted in New Year's Honours List" Reverse Rett Retrieved 2014-01-06 
  26. ^ McLaren, C 2010 "Adrian Bird lab: Our research" University of Edinburgh Retrieved 2014-01-06 
  27. ^ "Gabor previous winners 2005 – 1989" The Royal Society Archived from the original on 11 March 2008 Retrieved 5 February 2009 
  28. ^ "Gairdner Awards – Adrian Peter Bird, PhD" Archived from the original on 2013-10-17 
  29. ^ Gray, Richard 23 September 2013 "Higgs Boson scientist tipped to win Nobel Prize" The Telegraph Retrieved 30 December 2013 
  30. ^ "No 60728" The London Gazette Supplement 31 December 2013 p 1 
  31. ^ "Met Office chief scientist becomes Dame in honours list" BBC News 30 December 2013 Retrieved 30 December 2013 
  32. ^ "The New Year's Honours 2014" Cabinet Office Govuk 30 December 2013 Retrieved 30 December 2013 
  33. ^ "European award for celebrated scientist" The University of Edinburgh Retrieved 2014-01-29 
  34. ^ National Academy of Sciences Members and Foreign Associates Elected, News from the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Sciences, May 3, 2016, retrieved 2016-05-14 
  35. ^ Shaw Prize 2016
  36. ^ "Charles Rodolphe Brupbacher Prize" Charles Rodolphe Brupbacher Foundation 2017 Retrieved 20 December 2017 
  37. ^ "Elite award for Adrian Bird" University of Edinburgh 2011-05-11 Archived from the original on 7 January 2014 Retrieved 2014-01-06 
  38. ^ Governance Board Members of the Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre Retrieved 2014-01-07

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