Julian Parkhill

Favourite Thing: Seeing new data for the first time, and trying to work out what it means.



Westcliff High School for Boys, 1976-1983


I did a B.Sc. at the University of Birmingham between 1983-1986, and a Ph.D. at the University of Bristol from 1986-1991.

Work History:

After my PhD I worked at the University of Birmingham on viruses and cancer, then moved to the Sanger in 1997.


Pathogen Genomics

Area of Research:

Pathogen Genomics

Find out more:

Me and my work

I study the genomes of bacterial pathogens

We sequence the genomes of bacterial pathogens to learn about how they have evolved, how they cause disease, and how they have spread around the world. We work on organisms that cause diseases like typhoid fever, tuberculosis, meningitis, cholera, chlamydia and pneumonia, and on organisms that cause disease in hospitals, like  MRSA and Clostridium difficile.

We can see from our analyses that these diseases move rapidly around the world, spread by humans, and how they can respond quickly to become resistant to antibiotics and vaccines. We can see which bacterial genes are important to cause disease in humans and other animals. We can also use data on a very fine level to track outbreaks and see precisely the transmission of bacteria between people.

My Typical Day

Coffee. Reading about, talking about, and listening to science.

Coffee. Read and deal with e-mail. Talk to people in my group about the work they are doing and the latest data they have. Read and comment on scientific papers from my group and collaborators that we are preparing for publication. Read and criticise papers from other groups that have been sent to me to review and criticise before publication. Go to seminars from other scientists talking about their work. Also, unfortunately, sitting on the committees that keep the Institute working.

Although this is a typical day at work, I am often away at scientific conferences and meetings, listening to the  latest research and catching up with collaborators from across the world.

Genome sequencing and my research

Genome sequencing is fundamental to our research; it underlies everything we do.

We have been sequencing the genomes of bacteria for around fifteen years, with each improvement in the technology allowing us to broaden our research and look deeper into the biology of these pathogens.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Chubby, balding, loud.

What music do you have on your iPod?

80s music, mainly; Smiths, Bowie, Erasure, Billy Bragg, The Pogues; some late 70s punk and indy.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Diving in the Indian Ocean

What do you like to do away from work?

Read, game, swim.

What did you want to be after you left school?

A scientist.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Yes, but you don’t really think I’m gong to tell you why, do you?

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

Probably working out that gene degradation and loss plays an important part in the adaption of some pathogens to causing disease in humans

Tell us a joke.

How many computer programmers does it take to change a lightbulb? A: Can’t be done. It’s a hardware problem.