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Sir Adrian Peter Bird, CBE, FRS, FRSE, FMedSci (born 3 July 1947) 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.[17]

Adrian Bird
Adrian Peter Bird

(1947-07-03) 3 July 1947 (age 76)[15]
Rowley Regis, Staffordshire, England[16]
Alma mater
(m. 1993)
Scientific career
ThesisThe cytology and biochemistry of DNA amplification in the ovary of Xenopus laevis (1972)
Doctoral advisorMax Birnstiel[11][12][13]
Doctoral studentsRob Klose[14]

Education and early life

Bird was born in Rowley Regis near Wolverhampton, England, but from age 4 lived in the town of Kidderminster, near Birmingham.[18] 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.[18] Bird received his PhD[11] from the University of Edinburgh in 1970 for research supervised by Max Birnstiel,[11] following undergraduate study of Biochemistry at the University of Sussex.[10]

Career and research

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.[19][20] It was here that Bird, along with Edwin Southern, mapped the methylation status of CpG dinucleotides along ribosomal RNA in the African clawed frog.[19][21] 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.[22] From 2000 to 2010, he was also a governor of the Wellcome Trust, serving as deputy chairman during the latter three years.[22][23]

Bird is a trustee of the charitable organisation Cancer Research UK and of the Rett Syndrome Research Trust.[22][24] He also serves as a Governance Board Member of the Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre.[25]

Bird's research has focused on CpG islands and their associated binding-factor MeCP2.[26] He led the team which first identified CpG islands—originally named "HpaII tiny fragments"[19]—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.[26]

In 2007, the Bird laboratory published a paper in the journal Science[27] describing a proof-of-principle that the murine equivalent of Rett syndrome could be successfully reversed in laboratory mice.[28] 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.[28][29]

Awards and honours

Bird was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1989, his nomination read:

Adrian Bird is the leading authority on DNA methylation in animal cells. He demonstrated a rolling circle mechanism for ribosomal gene amplification. He showed that DNA methylation sites can be mapped using restriction enzymes and thus showed semi-conservative copying of methylation patterns. He showed convincingly that the doublet CpG is a source of mutation in vertebrates which led to the use of 'GpG' restriction enzymes to detect polymorphisms linked to genetic diseases. He discovered unmethylated 'HTF' islands at the 5i ends of housekeeping genes. This discovery has allowed new strategies for mapping and identifying genes and it has allowed Bird to propose that the unmethylated HTF islands identify DNA sequences to be kept constantly available within the nucleus.[30]

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".[31] He received the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine in the same year,[23] 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."[32] The following year Bird won the 2012 GlaxoSmithKline Prize.[22] In 2013, he was named a Thomson Reuters Citation Laureate and received the 2013 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Biomedicine "for his discoveries in the field of epigenetics".[20][33]

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"[34] 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.[35][36][37]

In 2016, he was elected as a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences[38] and received the Shaw Prize together with Huda Y. Zoghbi.[39] In 2017 he received the Charles Rudolphe Brupbacher Prize.[40]

He was awarded the Buchanan Medal of the Royal Society in 2018 for his medical discoveries,[41] and elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (FMedSci) in 2001.[42] In 2020 he was awarded the Brain Prize.[43]

Personal life

Adrian Bird is married to fellow geneticist Cathy Abbott and has four children.[18][19] At age 66, Bird was quoted as having no plans to retire, saying "we [the research group] are still funded well and our work is still published in journals and as long as that continues, so will I."[18]


  1. ^ Prize
  2. ^ 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:10.1038/ng1089. PMID 12610534. S2CID 17270515.
  3. ^ Bird, A (2007). "Perceptions of epigenetics". Nature. 447 (7143): 396–8. Bibcode:2007Natur.447..396B. doi:10.1038/nature05913. PMID 17522671. S2CID 4357965.
  4. ^ Bird, A. P. (1986). "CpG-rich islands and the function of DNA methylation". Nature. 321 (6067): 209–13. Bibcode:1986Natur.321..209B. doi:10.1038/321209a0. PMID 2423876. S2CID 4236677.
  5. ^ Bird, A (2002). "DNA methylation patterns and epigenetic memory". Genes & Development. 16 (1): 6–21. doi:10.1101/gad.947102. PMID 11782440.
  6. ^ Bird, A. P.; Wolffe, A. P. (1999). "Methylation-induced repression--belts, braces, and chromatin". Cell. 99 (5): 451–4. doi:10.1016/s0092-8674(00)81532-9. PMID 10589672. S2CID 15201044.
  7. ^ 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:10.1016/0092-8674(92)90610-O. PMID 1606614. S2CID 6825994.
  8. ^ 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. Bibcode:1998Natur.393..386N. doi:10.1038/30764. PMID 9620804. S2CID 4427745.
  9. ^ 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:10.1093/hmg/dds208. PMC 3412380. PMID 22653753.  
  10. ^ a b "Professor Adrian Bird – Associate Faculty". Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. Archived from the original on 7 April 2015.
  11. ^ a b c Bird, Adrian (1972). The cytology and biochemistry of DNA amplification in the ovary of Xenopus laevis (Thesis). University of Edinburgh. hdl:1842/11977. EThOS  
  12. ^ Bird, A. (2007). "Q&A: Adrian Bird". Current Biology. 17 (11): R393–R394. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2007.03.018. PMID 17600901. S2CID 13050386.
  13. ^ Schatz, G. (2015). "Max L. Birnstiel (1933–2014)". Cell. 160 (1–2): 11–12. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2014.12.030.
  14. ^ Klose, Rob (2005). Biochemical analysis of MeCP2 (PhD thesis). University of Edinburgh. hdl:1842/10997. EThOS  
  15. ^ a b Anon (2015). "Bird, Sir Adrian Peter". Who's Who (online Oxford University Press ed.). A & C Black. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.U7581. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  16. ^ England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1916-2007
  17. ^ Adrian Bird's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (subscription required)
  18. ^ a b c d Tomaney, William (9 January 2014). "Geneticist raised in Kidderminster happy with knighthood". The Shuttle. Newsquest. Archived from the original on 2 February 2014.
  19. ^ 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:10.1371/journal.pgen.1000667. PMC 2753650. PMID 19834538.
  20. ^ a b "BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards: Biomedicine 2013". BBVA Foundation. Archived from the original on 3 February 2014. Retrieved 31 January 2014.
  21. ^ 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:10.1016/0022-2836(78)90242-5. PMID 625056.
  22. ^ a b c d School of Biology Sciences (7 January 2014). "Knighthood for Adrian Bird". University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  23. ^ a b "Elite award for Adrian Bird, Buchanan Professor of Genetics at The University of Edinburgh". Edinburgh Science Triangle. 30 March 2011. Archived from the original on 7 January 2014. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
  24. ^ "Elite award for Adrian Bird". University of Edinburgh. 11 May 2011. Archived from the original on 7 January 2014. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
  25. ^ Governance Board Members of the Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre. Archived 7 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 7 January 2014.
  26. ^ a b "Adrian Bird". Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
  27. ^ 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. Bibcode:2007Sci...315.1143G. doi:10.1126/science.1138389. PMC 7610836. PMID 17289941. S2CID 25172134.
  28. ^ a b "Professor Bird knighted in New Year's Honours List". Reverse Rett. Archived from the original on 6 January 2014. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
  29. ^ McLaren, C. (2010). "Adrian Bird lab: Our research". University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
  30. ^ "EC/1989/04: Bird, Adrian Peter". London: The Royal Society. Archived from the original on 4 July 2019. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  31. ^ "Gabor previous winners 2005–1989". The Royal Society. Archived from the original on 11 March 2008. Retrieved 5 February 2009.
  32. ^ "Gairdner Awards – Adrian Peter Bird, PhD". Archived from the original on 17 October 2013.
  33. ^ "European award for celebrated scientist". The University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 29 January 2014.
  34. ^ Gray, Richard (23 September 2013). "Higgs Boson scientist tipped to win Nobel Prize". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 25 September 2013. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
  35. ^ "No. 60728". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2013. p. 1.
  36. ^ "Met Office chief scientist becomes Dame in honours list". BBC News. 30 December 2013. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
  37. ^ "The New Year's Honours 2014". Cabinet Office. 30 December 2013. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
  38. ^ National Academy of Sciences Members and Foreign Associates Elected, News from the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Sciences, 3 May 2016, retrieved 14 May 2016.
  39. ^ "Shaw Prize 2016". Archived from the original on 4 June 2016. Retrieved 31 May 2016.
  40. ^ "Charles Rodolphe Brupbacher Prize". Charles Rodolphe Brupbacher Foundation. 2017. Archived from the original on 22 December 2017. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  41. ^ "Buchanan Medal". Royal Society. Retrieved 6 September 2018.
  42. ^ "Professor Sir Adrian Bird CBE FRS FRSE FMedSci". Archived from the original on 22 April 2015.
  43. ^ "Prize Winners 2020". The Lundbeck Foundation. Archived from the original on 13 May 2020. Retrieved 29 April 2020.