Edinburgh Research Explorer

Prof Dave Burt

(Former employee or visitor)

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Education / Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Univ Leicester, University of Leicester
Master in Science, Univ Manchester, University of Manchester
Bachelor of Science, University of Edinburgh

Current Research Interests

Use comparative genomics and bioinformatics to understand biological systems in birds and mammals, in particular genes in development, physiology and disease.


Research Interests

Our current research is focused on comparative genomics and applications in poultry and other livestock species. Current projects include:

Annotation of genes and regulatory regions in the chicken and other avian genomes. We are using a range of short and long range sequencing technologies to characterise the entire transcriptome of the chicken, including defining the start and stop sites of transcription, all the alternate transcripts, and classifying coding and non-coding RNAs. To characterise regulatory regions we are using a range of genomic assays, such as CAGE, ChIP-seq, ATAC-seq, etc., to define the repertoire of regulatory elements, such as promoters, enhancers, silencers, etc. in the chicken and other avian genomes.

Evolution of avian genomes: defining the genomic regions under evolutionary constraint, and correlation of genome differences with phenotypic differences between species.

Transcriptional and epigenetic circuits involved in seasonal control of gene expression and physiology. We have defined specialised cells in the sheep “Calendar Cells” that change state on an annual clock from short to long day cells, we are also interested in the evolution of such a clock in mammals, birds and fish in a Human Frontiers Science Programme with labs in UK, Norway and Japan.

Host susceptibility towards avian viral infections. We are interested in how an avian host responds to a number of avian viruses, such as Marek’s Disease Virus and Avian Influenza, in both sensitive and resistant species and genetic lines.

Development of new tools for genome selection in poultry populations. This includes the use of genome sequencing and a range of bioinformatics tools to define and annotate genetic variants in the chicken and other genomes to predict the consequences of these variants at the molecular, cellular and whole animal. This information is in turn used to create new tools to increase our ability to predict phenotype form genotype. 


Professor David W. Burt, FRSB, FLS received his B.Sc. (1st class) in Molecular Biology at Edinburgh University in 1977, a PhD in molecular genetics from Leicester University in 1980 and MSc modules in Bioinformatics from Manchester University in 2002.

His post-doctoral training included research on molecular genetics of a wide range of species (bacteriophage lambda, bacteria, mouse, rat and human) and research areas (transcription circuits, cDNA cloning of growth factors, renin-angiotensin system and hypertension, QTL mapping, bioinformatics, phylogenetics and avian genomics). He has worked in the AstraZeneca-joint lab at Leicester University (UK), Harvard Medical School (USA), MRC Clinical Research Centre (UK) and Roslin Institute/Edinburgh University (UK).

He was appointed Head of Avian Genomics Group in 1988, Director of ARK-Genomics in 2000, Acting Director of the National Avian Research Facility in 2014 and Personal Chair in Comparative Genomics, University of Edinburgh in 2009.


Career history:

THE ROSLIN INSTITUTE: Principal Investigator (1988 to date); Director ARK-Genomics (2000 to 2010) and Acting Director of National Avian Research facility (2014-2016)
I was initially appointed in 1988 to work on the control of muscle gene expression in poultry. There were major advances being made in human genetics at the time, with whole genome mapping studies. I felt this was a direction in which farm animal genetics should be moving, and so in 1993 I changed my direction of research into Avian Genomics. Research fell into two mutually dependent paths: development of tools for genome analysis and there use to characterise genetic traits, mostly quantitative in nature. Since this period I have led UK and International efforts in chicken and comparative genomics, both developing genome resources and using this information to map and characterise genetic traits. In the last few years my research has focussed more and more at the genome level, initially with the creation of ARK-Genomics – a genome centre devoted to livestock genomics, which merged with Gene Pool and the Wellcome Trust Clinical Centre to form Edinburgh Genomics (
https://genomics.ed.ac.uk/).  In recent years my research interests have expanded in the chicken to all other avian genomes (http://avianbase.narf.ac.uk/). Through the development of chicken gene expression arrays (www.affymetrix.com), whole genome mapping tools (www.affymetrix.com) and application of bioinformatics tools. My research is now focussed on comparative genomics and applications in poultry and other livestock species. Current projects include: (i) Annotation of genes and regulatory regions in the chicken and other avian genome, (ii) Evolution of avian genomes, (iii) Transcriptional and epigenetic circuits involved in seasonal control of gene expression, (iv) Host susceptibility towards avian viral infections and (v) Development of new tools for genome selection in poultry populations.

CLINICAL RESEARCH CENTRE (MRC): Senior Postdoctoral Scientists (1987-1988)
I was offered a long-term position within the MRC to join the department of molecular genetics (Head: Professor James Scott, FRS) at the Clinical Research Centre (London). I joined Dr Woo, to examine the molecular regulation of the acute phase response in humans and was responsible for one research technician. We used a model system based on the serum amyloid-A gene family, for which the function in autoimmune disease was also under study in the group. This was a small, productive group but came to an end due to closure of the Clinical Research Centre in the late 1980’s. At this time a principal investigators post became vacant at the Roslin Institute, I applied and joined the Institute.

HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: Research Associate (1985-1987)
I joined Dr Dzau’s division of cardiovascular medicine to lead a group (One research technicians and two research fellows) to examine the molecular biology of the renin-angiotensinogen in human and rat. During this period I worked closely with the physiology group in the division led by Dr Pratt, together we set up a new molecular genetics laboratory. My research involved structural and gene expression studies aimed at discovering the mechanisms of gene control of the human and mouse renin genes. This work led to many scientific publications and participation in international workshops, such as the Gordon Conferences. In addition, by working with Dr Dzau within the Harvard Medical School system I learnt a lot about project management (staff, science and research funding) and the politics of scientific research. This period marked a significant change in my confidence and naturally led onto my ambitions to lead my own group.

The ICI (now AstraZeneca)/University of Leicester Joint Laboratory was a research group funded by ICI, initially for five years but was a success and continued for a further three years. I worked within the molecular genetics group, and was responsible for a technician and the occasional honours graduate student. The research was varied and started with a physical mapping project on specific regions of a bacterium (M. methylotrophus) used within ICI as a source of protein. During this time I set up genomic cloning and DNA sequencing techniques in the laboratory. The focus of the laboratory moved onto the study of mammalian (mostly mouse) genes and proteins of pharmaceutical importance. It was during this time that the group made significant advances in the regulation and structure of the renin gene family in the mouse. I made significant contributions to the structure of the mouse renin gene in various strains and the evolution of the aspartyl protease family. This work laid the foundation for my move to Harvard to join Dr Dzau’s team to study the molecular biology of the human renin-angiotensin system.

Visiting and Research Positions

Membership of Professional Bodies:

1988- British Society for Cell Biology

1991- World Poultry Science Association

1992- International Society of Animal Genetics

1995- Human Genome Organisation

2002- Founding member of the International Cytogenetics and Genome Society

2003- International Society for Computational Biology

2010- Genetics Society (2010

2013- Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology

2014- Life Sciences Scotland

2014- Elected Fellow of the Linnean Society

2014- Elected Fellow of the Galton Institute

2015- European Society Human Genetics

Research activities & awards

  1. 16th ADNAT Convention on Animal Genetics and Genomics

    Activity: Participation in conference, seminar or training courseParticipation in conference

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