Genomics News Research

A genetic basis for COVID susceptibility

A paper published yesterday supports a hypothesis that Richard Nichols and I made in March 2020. We published an article in The Conversation arguing that we need to know if someone’s chances of severe COVID symptoms are affected by their genes.

We suggested:

“It may be that just one or two genes are involved. Perhaps broken genes involved in the immune system or lung cell surfaces…It may be that there are thousands of genes involved. Perhaps a complex mix of genes involved in lung physiology, upper respiratory tract shape, and many other things we have never even thought of.”

Yesterday, the journal Science published a paper that begins to confirm this. It reports the discovery of broken immune system genes in some patients that have severe COVID symptoms.

The paper, titled “Inborn errors of type I IFN immunity in patients with life-threatening COVID-19” gives evidence that thirteen genes involved in the immune system have loss-of-function variants in a subset of patients with severe COVID symptoms.

An accompanying paper, titled “Auto-antibodies against type I IFNs in patients with life-threatening COVID-19” gives additional evidence that type I IFNs are critical to the body’s immune response to COVID. Impairment of their functioning leads to more severe symptoms in the patients they studied.

These studies are based on relatively small numbers of patients, and only studied a handful of genes that seemed likely from the outset to be involve in COVID immunity. If genome-wide association studies were conducted on large numbers of patients, as Richard Nichols and I suggested in March, we may discover that the 13 genes reported yesterday are just the tip of the iceberg.

Genomics News Research

Could we predict personal coronavirus risk from our DNA?

This article, co-authored with my colleague Prof. Richard Nichols, was published at The Conversation on 17th March 2020. Since then, Science has published a news article about efforts to do the type of studies that we advocated. NB. This is not about testing to see if we have coronavirus – this is about testing how badly affected we would be if we got it.

Coronavirus: sequencing the DNA of patients screened for coronavirus might save lives

Scientists should start sequencing the genomes of coronavirus patients. We should look for DNA differences between patients who are severely affected and those with mild symptoms. This could allow us to predict who else would be vulnerable and advise them to take precautions. We may be able to use this knowledge against the coronavirus epidemic before a vaccine is widely available.

Genomics News Oak Research

PhD studentship: Genomics of oak trees and their microbiota

I have just advertised a new PhD studentship opportunity on I am really excited about this project, and we have a huge amount on data already in hand for the new student to analyse. Here is the project description:


Babbage Podcast (The Economist) interview on tree health

Just before Christmas, I was interviewed by Howie Shannon for The Economist’s “Babbage” podcast. Here it is!


Marcus Wallenberg Prize 2017

This blog was first posted at Nature Ecology & Evolution Community on 31 October 2017

Last week in Stockholm the forest geneticist Prof. Ron Sederoff was awarded the Marcus Wallenberg Prize. Informally known as the “Nobel Prize for Forestry”, this two million Swedish Krona award is presented by the King of Sweden each year. It is the first time for a decade that the prize has gone to a biologist.

In the 1980s, Ron Sederoff realised that molecular genetics had the potential to transform research on trees.

News Research

Darwin’s abominable mystery

This blog was written for the Nature Ecology and Evolution Community where it is posted here

One of the hidden gems of Royal Botanic Gardens Kew is its library. I spent several happy hours there researching a recent letter to Nature Ecology and Evolution, published in June under the title “The deepening of Darwin’s abominable mystery“.

Ash Genomics News Oak

Ash tree genomics in response to ash dieback

This blog was written for the Nature Ecology and Evolution Community where it is posted here.

The ash tree genome project published in Nature today began, for me, with a lunchtime conversation with Andrew Leitch in the SCR bar at Queen Mary University of London in early November 2012. Ash dieback had been found in natural woodland in England for in late October. Such was the seriousness of the likely environmental impact of the disease that the Prime Minister had convened the emergency COBRA committee to discuss the government’s response.