Alex Bateman

It's 1.51am in San Diego. Feeling tired ...

Favourite Thing: I love making new discoveries. Finding out something that no one else in the world knows is addictive.



Archbishop Sancroft High School (Harleston, Norfolk) 1984-1989


University of Newcastle upon Tyne (BSc Biochemistry) 1991-1994

Work History:

I have worked at Sanger for 15 years since I completed my PhD



Area of Research:

Computational Biology

Find out more:

Me and my work

I am a collector of families of related proteins

I use computers to find relationships between proteins which are the mini-machines in all your cells.  For example, by finding that a newly found protein from a virus is similar to a protein from animals I can start to make guesses about how the virus works. Studying each protein is like a detective story with a bunch of evidence to weigh up. Although I want to track down what the protein does unfortunately there isn’t always a smoking gun.  One of the key computer methods I use is called a hidden Markov model.  Although I use them for proteins, they are also used in voice recognition software and in sonar detection (to tell the difference between whales and nuclear submarines).

My Typical Day

e-mail, tea, read, think, lunch, meeting, wikipedia, seminar, tea, write.

All my work is computer based, so I spend a lot of time at my desk. I also look after a team of scientists so I spend quite a bit of time chatting to them about how their work is going and helping them work through any problems.  Most days there are seminars by visiting scientists to go and listen to and get new ideas. I seem to do quite a lot of overseas travel and have recently been to Tromso in Norway and to the USA, and will be visiting Kuala Lumpur and San Diego in a couple of weeks.  However my favourite day is when I can lock myself in my office without any distractions and hunt down some new interesting protein families.

Genome sequencing and my research

My research helps us to understand what the genes we find in genome sequences actually do

Having a string of DNA letters is really just the first step to understanding a genome.  First we need to identify the proteins encoded in the DNA. Then we can search these proteins against all the proteins we know already to find similarities.  My scientific lifes work has been about creating a database of protein families called Pfam that can allow scientists to quickly find out what these new proteins do. We have recently been using and editing Wikipedia to make this information more accessible.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

creative clever stupid

What music do you have on your iPod?

Don’t have one

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Silverstone on a Honda Fireblade at 170 mph

What do you like to do away from work?


What did you want to be after you left school?

No idea

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Yes. I was particularly bad at handing in German homework.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Made computer tools that thousands of biologists use everyday

Tell us a joke.

Why did the bacteria cross the road? To prove he wasn’t chicken.