Tom Gilbert is an Honorary Fellow: Department of Biology,
University of York - see BioArCh.
I obtained my BA in Biological Sciences from Oriel College,
University of Oxford, predominantly focusing on the epidemiology of
infectious disease, and the behavioural ecology of amphibious fish.
Following this I moved over to more molecular biology based research,
undertaking a D.Phil at Oxford’s Zoology Department under the
supervision of Alan Cooper. My thesis, entitled ‘An assessment of the
use of human samples in ancient DNA research’ focused on the
characterization of some of the biochemical and contamination related
problems of ancient human DNA research.
In 2003 I moved to the University of Arizona, to undertake a
post-doctoral position under Dr Mike Worobey. In this time I
predominantly focused my research on teasing nucleic acids (both DNA and
RNA) out of archival formalin fixed human tissues, including a huge
collection from the former Belgian Congo. The reason for doing this –
the recovery and analysis of historic viral sequences, particularly
HIV-1 – has been fairly productive and remains one of my key research
In 2005 I commenced a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship at the
Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, and in late 2007 was
awarded one of 3 ‘Skou’ Associate Professor Awards by the Danish
National Science Foundation. This has enabled me to run a research group
with a variety of biological, anthropological and archaeological
The underlying theme of my research interests is the investigation of
ecological, evolutionary biological, anthropological and archaeological
questions through the exploitation of tissues and other materials that
are conventional deemed unsuitable for nucleic acid-based analyses. In
particular, I aim to both investigate long-standing questions, and open
up new research frontiers through the development of new, optimization
of extant, and coupling of previously disparate techniques. I believe
that the most efficient means to obtain my research goals, is through
collaboration with, and information transfer between some of the leading
researchers their respective disciplines. Therefore in light of my aims
and interests, I have built up a network of geographically widespread,
close collaborators, both within the UK, in Europe, and in the Americas
- The potential and limitations of sub-optimal materials for use in
genetic analyses. Including bone, keratinous tissues, chitinous
materials, leather, wool.
- The customization of the Roche FLX, Illumina Solexa and Applied
Biosystems SOLiD sequencing platforms to ancient, forensic and other
degraded DNA studies. Examples include customizing the FLX to
simultaneously co-sequence thousands of independent, homologous PCR
products, using the FLX to rapidly generate complete ancient mtDNA
genomes, and using the FLX to rapidly generate complete ancestral viral
genomes from formalin fixed materials.
- The postmortem degradation, repair, and subsequent retrieval of
Phylogenetic placement and population genetic analyses of extinct
mammalian megafauna using complete mtDNA analysis. Taxa under study
include killer whales, narwhale, reindeer, woolly and extant
rhinoceroses, saiga antelope, and musk oxen and their related genera.
The research is principally based on DNA recovered from ancient bone and
- Phylogenetic and population genetic analyses of the giant and
colossal squid species- This research exploits the use of DNA recovered
from archival beak fragments as a means to greatly expand the dataset
available for research.
- Studying the evolutionary history of viruses using DNA
sequences recovered from archival (principally early 20th century
formalin fixed) specimens. Specific interest in HIV-1 using preserved
materials obtained from former Zaire.
- Documenting the genetic background and time of
arrival of the first humans in the Americas and Greenland, using DNA
recovered from trace biological materials, including hair and
- The domestication of maize, grapes and any
other plants I can get a decent number of well preserved seeds from