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This lab is run jointly between QMUL and Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. We interested in genomic aspects of the evolution and conservation of plants, especially in the context of tree health. We have active research programmes in three areas:

(1) Phylogenomics of the ash tree genus Fraxinus
Ash trees in Britain, Europe and North America are threatened by ash dieback and the emerald ash borer. We are using phylogenomic approaches to find genetic variants in ash species that reduce their susceptibility to these two health problems. We have sequenced the genome of a British ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior) with funding from NERC. Postdoc Laura Kelly is now sequencing the genomes of 35 other ash species from around the world, funded by the BBSRC, Defra, NERC, ESRC, Scottish Government and Forestry Commission. We are screening different ash species for susceptibility to ash dieback and the emerald ash borer, in collaboration with Forest Research (Roslin) and the United States Forest Service (Ohio). We will seek gene trees that have a topology matching the pattern of susceptibility of the species to each health problem. More details may be found on the project website

(2) Birch trees on Scottish mountains. Dwarf Birch is rare and found mainly above the tree line, whereas Downy Birch is widespread below the tree line. The two species hybridise a great deal. We are using new DNA sequencing methods to work out how the two species maintain their identity in the face of hybridization, and the extent to which hybridization impedes the conservation of dwarf birch. We are especially interested in how global warming affects the dynamics of this system. This work is funded by a Fellowship from the Natural Environment Research Council. We have recently sequenced the whole genome of Betula nana (see paper here). The birch genome website can be found at

(3) Hybridisation of Tragopogon species (Daisy family) in south-east England. We are studying diploid hybridisation between Tragopogon pratensis and T. porrifolius, which results in T. x mirabilis. We have found abundant hybrids in natural mixed populations in London and have preliminary evidence that they are reproducing. This work was funded by a pump-priming SYNTAX grant in collaboration with Andrew and Ilia Leitch.


In the news

Date Programme Article
26/12/16 BBC Ash tree genome sequenced for first time
26/12/16 Guardian British ash trees may resist dieback disease, research reveals
26/12/16 Daily Mail Trees resistant to killer fungus could be grown in Britain
26/12/16 Daily Express Ash trees could be saved from killer disease after UK study cracks genetic code
13/01/16 BBSRC Screening technique to reinforce fight against ash dieback
08/07/15 Journal of Experimental Biology Youtube Channel Genomics of Fraxinus
07/10/14 BBC News Channel Interview on ash dieback
22/06/14 The Conversation Despite the lush summer leaves, our trees are under attack
07/06/14 Sunday Telegraph Ash dieback is now ‘unstoppable’, ecologists warn
15/05/14 France 24 Talking Europe (from 9:50)
01/12/13 Sunday Times GM trees may save our woods
01/10/13 Planet Earth Podcast Using genetics to fight ash dieback
27/09/13 BBC Radio 4 Ashes to Ashes
26/09/13 BBC News Ash trees also face insect threat
23/09/13 BBC News Scientists map UK ash tree genome
12/6/13 BBC1 News at One, BBC1 News at Six Interview on ash dieback
Summer 2013 Planet Earth The last stand?
5/2/13 Planet Earth Podcast Using genetics to save the ash tree
21/12/12 Today programme, BBC Radio 4 Interview on ash dieback
21/12/12 Good Morning Scotland, BBC Scotland Interview on ash dieback
21/12/12 Laurence Reed Show, BBC Cornwall Interview on ash dieback
21/12/12 Planet Earth Online New genetics project could help save the ash tree
9/12/12 Sunday Telegraph British woodlands need diversity from around the world
24/11/12 Sunday Times Scientists step in to save birch
20/11/12 BBC News Forres-based charity’s effort to protect ‘wee trees’
11/11/12 BBC News DNA tests for rare birch trees from Caucasus Mountains

Opportunities in the lab

Masters students

Students on our MSc Ecological and Evolutionary Genomics or MSc Ecology and Evolutionary Biology programme can apply to do their research project in this lab.

PhD students

Prospective PhD students are encouraged to apply to next year’s intake of the London NERC DTP.

Students from outside Europe should explore our studentships list.


Prospective postdoctoral research associates from outside the UK are encouraged to consider applying to the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship Programme.

If you are interested in any of these opportunities, please contact Richard Buggs directly.