Edinburgh Research Explorer

Prof Mick Watson

Personal Chair in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology

Profile photo

Phone: + 44 (0)131 651 9208

Willingness to take Ph.D. students: Yes

Education / Academic qualification

2014Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), University of Edinburgh
Bioinformatic analysis of genome-scale data reveals insights into host-pathogen interactions in farm animals
1997Master in Science, University of York
1996Bachelor of Science, University of York

Current Research Interests

I am interested in what large datasets tell us about biological function, and how we can correlate patterns in big data with phenotypes of interest in farm animal health, disease and productivity.

Research Interests

  • We have been studying ruminant microbiomes using whole-genome shotgun sequencing data since 2011 and are currently running possibly one of the biggest cattle gut microbiome projects ever carried out - whole-genome-shotgun metagenomics of over 300 cattle, richly phenotyped for feed-conversion-ratio and methane emissions (segregated by diet and breed).  This is in collaboration with SRUC and Aberdeen
  • Funded by BBSRC and TSB, we are mining rumen gut metagenome data for novel enzymes in relation to biocatalysis
  • We are also interested in the chicken gut microbiome and are associating changes in the gut flora with diet and response to vaccines
  • Genomics and the consequences of genome variation are also of interest.  We work with animal breeders to help them understand the possible consequences of variation in their herds, and what that variation can tell us about gene function.  We have worked on improving the pig genome and assembled Sscrofa 11.1, a PacBio+nanopore+Illumina pig genome assembly to be released in 2017
  • We have an active interest in sequencing technologies, and have released poRe, one of the first tools to work with data from Oxford Nanopore's MinION
  • We also have an interest in bioinformatics methods and pipelines, and have produced improved pipelines for both metagenomic analysis and RNA-Seq analysis.  In particular, we focus on precision in RNA-Seq, and attempts to identify uncertainty in terms of genes that we cannot measure accurately.
  • I am the programme leader of programme 5 of the centre for tropical livestock genetics and health (CTLGH: www.ctlgh.org), a Gates-funded centre focused on genomic-improvement of African livestock
  • We work with Prof Venu Nair at The Pirbright Institute on avian oncogenic viruese, using mRNA-Seq, microRNA-Seq and ChIP-Seq to understand how these viruses subvert the host cell machinery
  • We work with Alain Kohl, Esther Schnettler and Isabelle Dietrich on analysis of viRNA and piRNA responses in insect vectors of viral diseases, using our software viRome (10.1093/bioinformatics/btt297)
  • We work with David Griffiths on ovine pulmonary adenocarcinoma, again using next-generation-sequencing to understand the virus and how it interacts with the host

Administrative Roles

  • Representative on Genomics England SAG (Sequence Advisory Group)
  • Invited pieces published in Nature Biotechnology, Nature Methods, Genome Biology
  • Member of the FAANG steering committee
  • Co-chair of the FAANG Bioinformatics and Data Analysis committee
  • 2016- present, Associate editor, G3
  • 2012- present, Associate Editor, BMC Genomics
  • 2011- present, Member of the board of Animal Genetics,
  • 2013- present, Associate Editor, Frontiers In Computational Biology
  • 2011- 2013 Academic Editor, PLOS ONE
  • Organising committee: Genome Sciences conference
    • Session chair: Plant and animal genomics, Genome Sciences, Liverpool, UK
    • Session chair: Plant and animal genomics, Genome Sciences, Birmingham, UK
    • Session chair: Bioinformatics Infrastructure.  Genome Sciences, Oxford, UK
  • Invited Speaker at several national and international conferences



Mick Watson is a bioinformatician and genome scientist, with almost 20 years’ experience in industry and academia. He was involved in the implementation and management of pipelines for functional genomics at GlaxoWellcome, SNP discovery at Incyte Genomics and Target Discovery at Paradigm Therapeutics, before joining the Institute for Animal Health as Head of Bioinformatics in 2002. He joined the Roslin Institute in 2010 as Director of ARK-Genomics and research group leader.  His group's research focuses on the use of computational and mathematical techniques to understand genome function with an emphasis on systems of relevance to animal health and food security. Publications include both primary bioinformatics research papers and collaborative research in a variety of technical and scientific journals. The outputs from his research have included novel algorithm development, as well as the application of bioinformatics techniques to microbial and meta-genomics.

Research activities & awards

  1. PLoS One

    Activity: Editorial work or peer review of publicationsEditorial activity

  2. BMC Genomics

    Activity: Editorial work or peer review of publicationsEditorial activity

  3. Frontiers in genetics

    Activity: Editorial work or peer review of publicationsEditorial activity

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