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New University of Leicester research centre to explore the genetic complexities of life

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New University of Leicester research centre to explore the genetic complexities of life

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Published by University of Leicester Press Office for University of Leicester in Health and also in Education

Returning Professor to head new research centre for Genetic Architecture of Complex Traits

This week, the University of Leicester launches a new Centre for Genetic Architecture of Complex Traits to explore the building blocks of complex traits and disease.

The new centre aims to improve our understanding of evolutionary aspects of adaptation in populations, the nature of disease, and will help to build tools for use in other disciplines.

It is the fifth new Research Centre to be established at the University of Leicester, reflecting the University’s commitment to research excellence and ensuring that Leicester will be known for its expertise in these areas. 

The centre has been boosted by the appointment of Professor Ed Louis, as Director. This new role is a return to his roots in the genetics of complex traits, as well as a return to the University of Leicester.

Professor Louis said, “One of the big problems in modern biology is the understanding of the underlying genetics of the traits (phenotypes) we observe in organisms, from disease in humans to disease resistance in parasites to productivity in agriculture.

“Now we have a surfeit of genetic markers, modern technology and an excellent model in the budding yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Back in the 80’s there were few markers available and our understanding of the complex genetic interactions underlying diseases and traits of interest were limited.

“The research of the centre will concentrate on exploring and exploiting variation in yeast to understand the genetics of complex traits in yeast and other organisms (from evolutionary aspects of adaptation in populations to understanding the nature of disease), to build tools for use in other systems (how to measure complexity and how does this complexity interfere with our understanding of biology) and to develop better yeast (improved fermentation to new products). We will interact with mathematicians, informaticians, genomics researchers, systems and synthetic biologists, and geneticists in a multidisciplinary approach to these complex problems.”

Professor Sir Robert Burgess, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, said: "I am delighted that we are able to welcome back Professor Ed Louis to lead this exciting new Research Centre.  This will be the fifth Research Centre we have established to build on Leicester’s strengths.  This Centre builds on our world-class work in Genetics research.  It will bring new talent and new work to the University."

An American Cancer Society postdoctoral fellowship at Brandeis University started Professor Louis’ work with yeast as a model organism. In 1991, as part of the reverse brain drain, Ed moved to the Institute of Molecular Medicine in Oxford as a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow in Basic Biomedical Sciences, where he continued using yeast to study telomeres, genome stability and evolution as well as develop tools for analysing telomeres from various parasites. He was part of the project that completed the first eukaryotic genome sequence, a prelude to the human genome project.

He was appointed as Professor of Genetics at the University of Leicester in 2000, and was director of research for Biology and founding director of the Institute of Genetics.

In 2005 he was temporarily wooed away to the University of Nottingham as Professor of Genome Dynamics. While there he initiated the population genomics analysis of yeast with Richard Durbin of the Sanger Institute, which was a prelude to the 1000 human genome project’s informatics development. Eight years to the day, he returns to Leicester as Director of a new Research Centre for the Genetic Architecture of Complex Traits (GACT).

Professor Louis is on the editorial board of several journals, serves on research committees for the BBSRC and the Royal Society, chairs the scientific advisory board of Liverpool’s next generation sequencing centre, CGR, and is a Trustee of the Frozen Ark charity which preserves and promotes the preservation of DNA and tissue samples from endangered species. He is a Fellow of the Society of Biology and was a holder of a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit award.

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