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Genomes are packaged as chromatin in nucleosomes composed of core histones (H2A/H2B/H3/H4).  Epigenetic processes, mediated by histone post-translational modifications, allow continued gene expression/repression in cell lineages.  Understanding how such ‘marks’ establish and propagate chromatin states is critical for specifying and maintaining distinct cell types.  Moreover, epigenetic states provide a source of phenotypic variation, independent of DNA sequence.

Lineage commitment and reprogramming of cell fate involves both chromatin-mediated shutdown and activation of elaborate transcription programmes. Specialised chromatin domains are therefore fundamentally important, but dissecting these epigenetic mechanisms remains challenging in mammals. Model organisms such as fission yeast are effective for uncovering important principles applicable across phyla.

Epigenetic heritability is an important property of both heterochromatin and CENP-A chromatin: once formed they can persist without initiating signals. Since debilitating disorders (i.e. Friedreich’s Ataxia, FSHD) result from aberrant heterochromatin-mediated gene silencing, it is important to understand events that promote and deter gene silencing. Moreover, stochastic gene silencing in response to environmental cues may trigger transgenerational inheritance of epigenetically-regulated traitsFunctional CENP-A chromatin is assembled only at centromeres; chromosome missegregation and aneuploidy result from defective CENP-A and kinetochore assembly. Regulated CENP-A deposition prevents unstable chromosome formation by ensuring assembly of only one kinetochore per chromosome. Overexpression of CENP-A and its assembly factors is prevalent in various aggressive tumours where they may drive genome instability.

Our goal is to decipher conserved mechanisms that establish, maintain and regulate assembly of heterochromatin and CENP-A chromatin domains. We aim to provide provide insight into how heterochromatin forms on canonical pericentromere repeats. Heterochromatin may also silence genes throughout the genome, we are investigating how stochastic silencing might exert epigenetic influences on phenotype.  We also strive to understand how heterochromatin, spatial nuclear organisation and non-coding RNAPII transcription combine to mediate CENP-A incorporation at centromeres.

Trypanosome epigenetics: in collaboration with Keith Matthews we are investigating the nature and function of heterochromatin in the sleeping sickness parasite, Trypanosoma brucei. 


group members

Robin Allshire

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Professor of Chromosome Biology

  • B.A. Genetics: Trinity College Dublin. 1981.

  • Ph.D. MRC Mammalian Genome Unit, University of Edinburgh. 1985. Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 PhD Scholarship.

  • Postdoc: MRC Human Genetics Unit, Edinburgh. 1985-1989.

  • Visiting Scientist - Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories, New York. 1989-1990.

  • Junior Group Leader: MRC Human Genetics Unit, Edinburgh 1990-1995.

  • Senior Scientist: MRC Human Gentics Unit, Edinburgh. 1995-2002.

  • Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow, Wellcome Centre for Cell Biology, University of Edinburgh. 2002-present.

  • EMBO Member. 1998.

  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. 2005.

  • Fellow of the Royal Society, London. 2011.

  • Genetics Society (UK) Medal. 2013.

Alison Pidoux  Senior Research Associate

Alison Pidoux

Senior Research Associate

SHARON WHITE  Lab Manager - Research Associate


Lab Manager - Research Associate

MANU SHUKLA  Postdoctoral Researcher


Postdoctoral Researcher

TANIA AUCHYNNIKAVA  Postdoctoral Researcher


Postdoctoral Researcher

ROBERTA CARLONI  Postdoctoral Researcher


Postdoctoral Researcher

MARCEL LAFOS  Postdoctoral Researcher


Postdoctoral Researcher

PUNEET SINGH  Darwin Trust PhD Student


Darwin Trust PhD Student

IMTIYAZ YASEEN  Postdoctoral Researcher


Postdoctoral Researcher

DESISLAVA STANEVA  Wellcome Trust PhD Student


Wellcome Trust PhD Student

SITO TORRES-GARCIA  Darwin Trust PhD Student


Darwin Trust PhD Student



PhD Student

WEIFANG WU  Darwin Trust PhD Student


Darwin Trust PhD Student


Contact Us:


Wellcome Centre for Cell Biology
Institute of Cell Biology
School of Biological Sciences
University of Edinburgh
6.34 Michael Swann Building
Max Born Crescent
Edinburgh EH9 3BF
Scotland - UK

Tel: +44 131 650 7103

Find US:

The Wellcome Centre for Cell Biology is located in the Michael Swann Building (tall light cream/green building on the King's Buildings Campus, ~4 km south of the city centre. The Michael Swann Building is the third building, approximately 100m, on the left through Entrance 4 from Mayfield Road and can be reached from the city centre by bus or taxi.

Taxi: fare from Edinburgh airport is ~£25 GBP and from Edinburgh city centre ~£10 GBP, depending on the traffic conditions.

Tram: Edinburgh Tram leaves approximately every 10 minutes from Edinburgh Airport and takes 35 minutes to Edinburgh City Centre (Princes Street). Tickets: £5 (single) £8 (return) - buy online using the Lothian Buses m-tickets App:

Bus: Lothian Buses provide an express Airlink service to/from Edinburgh Airport to the city centre and operate a network of buses around the city. Services 42 and 67 leave from the City Centre/Princes Street and stop close to Kings Buildings on Mayfield Road.  Other services such as the 3, 7, 8, 29, 30, 31, 37, 47 leave from the city centre and stop at Cameron Toll which is approximately 10 minutes walk away from the Wellcome Centre for Cell Biology.

By Air: There are regular direct flights to Edinburgh from London, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Paris and other European cities.  There are direct flights from New York (Newark - Continental; JFK - Delta). For more information see Edinburgh Airport.  Edinburgh is only 50 miles from Glasgow and Glasgow Airport.

By Train: There are excellent train services Edinburgh-Glasgow and Edinburgh-London Kings Cross.


Interested In joining us?

Post-Doctoral Researcher and Ph.D. student applications from UK, EU, US & Overseas are always considered.

Various funding sources can be explored:

Post-Doc fellowships: EMBO, FEBSHFSP, Newton, Marie CurieWellcome.

PhD Studentships: Darwin Trust (email me), Edinburgh GlobalPrincipal's Career Development, EastBio, Precision Medicine,  Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds.

Please send your CV and summary of your research interests to: