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2017 Bernard Cohen Memorial Lecture in Genetics


Peter Donnelly FRS
Director, Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetic
University of Oxford

Meiosis, Recombination,and the Origin of a Species

Monday, May 8, 2017, 4:00 PM
Gaulton Auditorium, Biomedical Research Building

Peter Donnelly is Director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics and Professor of Statistical Science at the University of Oxford, and a leading international researcher in human genetics. He grew up in Australia and on graduating from the University of Queensland he won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford where he studied for a doctorate in mathematics.  He held professorships at the University of London and in Chicago (jointly between Statistics and Ecology and Evolution) before returning to Oxford in 1996.  Peter’s early research work concerned the development of stochastic models in population genetics, including the coalescent.  He has developed and applied powerful and sophisticated statistical methods to analyse genetic and genomic data, with his group responsible for several widely-used statistical algorithms, including STRUCTURE and PHASE, and, in collaboration with colleagues in Oxford, IMPUTE.  

Peter played a major role in the HapMap project, the successor to the Human Genome Project which characterised patterns of genetic variation within and between continental populations.  He chaired the landmark Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium (WTCCC) study and its successor, WTCCC2, a large international collaboration studying the genetic basis of more than 20 common human diseases and conditions in over 60,000 people. He also led WGS500, an Oxford collaboration with Illumina which was one of the first to pioneer whole genome sequencing in clinical medicine, and a precursor to the UK’s 100,000 Genomes Project.  Another major focus of his work is meiotic recombination, where Peter and his colleagues in Oxford have been responsible for localising over 30,000 recombination hotspots in the human genome, for identifying the first DNA sequence motif associated with hotspots, and the gene, PRDM9, responsible for hotspot positioning, and most recently for linking PRDM9’s roles in meiosis and speciation, where it is the only known mammalian speciation gene.

Peter is a Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Academy of Medical Sciences, and is an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries.  He has received numerous awards and honours for his research, and his TED talk has over a million downloads.