John Colbourne

Chair of Environmental Genomics
University of Birmingham

My work has had a broad impact on the establishment of new genomic model species to complement those (e.g., Saccharomyces, Drosophila, Caenorhabditis, Mus) that have transformed our understanding of the human condition by laboratory studies, yet now chosen because of a deeper understanding of their ecologies, and a greater ability to sample and study genetic variants within their natural populations. These include the waterfea Daphnia (Colbourne et al. 2011 Science 331: 555-561), the jewel wasp Nasonia (Werren et al. 2010 Science 327:343-348), the green anole lizard Anolis (Alföldi et al. 2011 Nature 477:587-591) and the brown planthopper Nilaparvata (Zhang et al. 2014 Genome Biology 15:521). Other vertebrates include the killifish Fundulus (Reid et al. 2017 Genome Biology and Evolution 9:659-676), the songbird Junco and a growing list of emerging invertebrate model species including bee, black fly, aphid, tick, mosquito (Tormey et al. 2015 BMC Genomics 16:754) and amphipod (Poynton et al. 2018 Environmental Science and Technology 52:6009-6022). This work resulted in Daphnia's designation as a biomedical model species by the US National Institutes of Health.

Studies that focused on these new model species are producing the broad range of anticipated discoveries that would be difficult to achieve otherwise; many are suggesting that variation among the co-regulated networks of genes are better predictors than gene variation of the adaptive potential of populations to survive environmental stress (Reid et al. 2016 Science 354:1305-1308), of the mechanisms that confer insecticide resistances in arthropods (Weston et al. 2013 PNAS 110:16532), of the mechanistic basis of environmentally induced phenotypic plastic traits (Shaw et al. 2014 Molecular Biology and Evolution 31:3002-3015), and the evolutionary basis of the vector biology of mosquitos (Bradshaw et al. 2017 PNAS 115:1009-1014).

Area of expertise: 
Established researcher