Professor J Peter W Young

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1992 - Professor of Molecular Ecology Department of Biology, University of York
1979 - 1992 Research group leader John Innes Institute, Norwich 
1978 - 1979 SRC Postdoctoral Fellow School of Biology, University of Sussex
1975 - 1978 NIH Postdoctoral Fellow Department of Ecology and Evolution, State University of New York at Stony Brook
1975 PhD University of Cambridge (Natural Sciences - Genetics)
1972 BA University of Cambridge (Natural Sciences - Genetics)




Microbes are everywhere and their activities are vital for all “macrobes” like us.  Microbes are hard to see, and hard to tell apart, but advances in our ability to study DNA have led to rapid and accelerating progress in our knowledge of microbes in the environment, including those that interact with plants, animals and fungi. In my group, we study the population genetics, molecular phylogeny and comparative genomics of rhizobia and other bacteria. We also use molecular approaches to study the ecology and diversity of mycorrhizal fungi. Bioinformatics plays an important role in teasing new understanding from the masses of data.


Bacterial taxonomy reflects the core genome, but ecological adaptation is conferred by an accessory genome that is partially independent of this. Bacteria do not have “second chromosomes”, but may have chromids that are derived from plasmids. The main symbionts of Mimosa species are betaproteobacteria in the genus Burkholderia. The nuclear genomes of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi can have multiple coexisting gene versions, but the mitochondria do not. 


  • New wheat root ideotypes for yield performance in reduced input agriculture (with A Greenland at NIAB and others) (Funding body: BBSRC LINK)
  • Targeted analysis of microbial lignocellulolytic secretomes - a new approach to enzyme discovery (with Neil Bruce, Simon McQueen Mason) (Funding body: BBSRC-FAPESP)
  • Comparative genomics and evolution of rhizobia (with Prof Wenxin Chen, China Agricultural University, Beijing) (Funding body: Royal Society)
  • Bacterial comparative genome analysis (Funding body: Thai Government)
  • LEGATO: Legumes for the agriculture of tomorrow (with 28 partners) (Funding body: European Commission FP7) 





Research Student

Ganesh Lad

Adaptive diversity within a bacterial population

Research Student

Nitin Kumar

Genome diversity within a bacterial species

Research Student

Kailin Hui

Metabolism and host specificity in Rhizobium

Research Student

Piyachat Udomwong

Bacterial comparative genome analysis

Research Student

Thomas Irving

Plant mutants affecting mycorrhizal symbiosis

Research Student

Benjamin Langendorf

Mycorrhizal fungi to protect strawberry plants from wilt (with Dr Angela Hodge)


David Sherlock

Root microbiome of wheat cultivars

Available PhD research projects

Bioinformatic analysis of bacterial genome evolution (2015-16)

Bacterial genomes are relatively small in size but very varied in content and composition.  Public databases provide a huge and growing resource of bacterial genome data that has barely been mined to date, and we also have access to our own new data that require analysis before publication.  This opens up numerous possibilities for projects that use or develop bioinformatic tools for sequence analysis.  One possibility would be to seek to identify the highways for bacterial gene traffic by tracking the distribution of genes that have spread across many bacterial groups.  By comparing sequences, the pathways of transfer can be reconstructed, and evidence for selection may be detected.  A different project might explore the functional classes of genes in different locations in the genome – the core genome, genomic islands, plasmids, etc. – in order to understand how bacterial genomes are constructed and maintained in the face of constant rearrangement and environmental challenges.  Such projects require familiarity with computer programming and analysis languages such as Python and R, so a Masters degree in bioinformatics, or similar relevant experience, is normally a prerequisite.


Peter J W Young

Contact details

J Peter W Young
Department of Biology (Area 3)
University of York
YO10 5DD

Tel: 01904 320000