Deborah Charlesworth

Last updated

Deborah Charlesworth

BornMarch 1943 (age 78)
Citizenship British
Alma mater University of Cambridge
(m. 1967)
Children1 daughter
AwardsGenetics Society Medal (2019)
Scientific career
Fields Evolutionary biology
Thesis Biometrical studies of some biochemical characters in the mouse  (1969)
Doctoral students Philip Awadalla
Other notable students Gilean McVean (postdoc)

Deborah Charlesworth FRS FRSE (née Maltby; born 1943) is a population geneticist from the UK whose made important discoveries in population genetics and evolutionary biology. [1] [2] Her most notable research is in understanding the evolution of recombination, sex chromosomes and mating system for plants. [1]


Early life and education

Charlesworth grew up in a London suburb, and from a young age was very interested in the natural world around her. [3]

Charlesworth initially studied biochemistry, however genetic variation played a significant role since the beginning her research. [4] Charlesworth obtained her doctorate at Cambridge University in 1968 with her thesis focusing on the quantitative genetics of mice, specifically the extent of genetic variation in the blood glucose levels across natural strains. [4] This also happened to be the topic of her first study. [4] Charlesworth continued her education at Cambridge and Chicago as a research fellow in human genetics examining amino acid variations in hemoglobins in human populations. [4] Charlesworth's interest in evolutionary biology continued through her collaboration with Brian Charlesworth, specifically their works on mimicry systems and recombination rates causing her to shift her focus to evolution. [4] She continued her post-doctoral research at, University of Chicago, Liverpool University, Sussex University as Brian Charlesworth took positions at each, causing Debrah to do research without Grant support. [4] She was mentored at Cambridge by Hermann Lehmann. [5]

At the age of 45, Charlesworth obtained her first faculty position teaching at University of Chicago from 1988–1997. [3] By this time, Charlesworth had already published ~50 articles. [4] Following this position, Charlesworth left to take up a Professorial Research Fellowship at the University of Edinburgh. [6] She is best known for her work on the evolution of genetic self-incompatibility in plants and is recognised as a leader in that field. According to the Web of Science she has published over 300 articles in peer-reviewed journals. These articles have been cited over 10,000 times and she has an h-index of 53. [7] She has been married since 1967 to the British evolutionary biologist Brian Charlesworth, who she ended up working in population genetics with. [3]

Awards and honors

Charlesworth was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2001 [3] and a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2005 [8] In 2011, Charlesworth was awarded the Molecular Ecology Prize. [9] Charlesworth was awarded the Genetics Society Medal 2019. [10] She was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Society for the Study of Evolution in January 2020. [11]

Selected publications

Related Research Articles

Heredity Passing of traits to offspring from the speciess parents or ancestor

Heredity, also called inheritance or biological inheritance, is the passing on of traits from parents to their offspring; either through asexual reproduction or sexual reproduction, the offspring cells or organisms acquire the genetic information of their parents. Through heredity, variations between individuals can accumulate and cause species to evolve by natural selection. The study of heredity in biology is genetics.

Sex Trait that determines an individuals reproductive function, male or female, in sexually reproducing organisms

Sex is a trait that determines an individual's reproductive function, male or female, in animals and plants that propagate their species through sexual reproduction. The type of gametes produced by an organism defines its sex. Commonly in plants and animals, male organisms produce smaller gametes while female organisms produce larger gametes. Organisms that produce both types of gametes are called hermaphrodites. During sexual reproduction, male and female gametes fuse to form zygotes that develop into offspring that inherit a selection of the traits of each parent.

Selfish genetic elements are genetic segments that can enhance their own transmission at the expense of other genes in the genome, even if this has no positive or a net negative effect on organismal fitness. Genomes have traditionally been viewed as cohesive units, with genes acting together to improve the fitness of the organism. However, when genes have some control over their own transmission, the rules can change, and so just like all social groups, genomes are vulnerable to selfish behaviour by their parts.

<i>Silene</i> Genus of flowering plants

Silene is a genus of flowering plants in the family Caryophyllaceae. Containing nearly 900 species, it is the largest genus in the family. Common names include campion and catchfly. Many Silene species are widely distributed, particularly in the northern hemisphere.

Molecular evolution process of change in the sequence composition of cellular molecules across generations

Molecular evolution is the process of change in the sequence composition of cellular molecules such as DNA, RNA, and proteins across generations. The field of molecular evolution uses principles of evolutionary biology and population genetics to explain patterns in these changes. Major topics in molecular evolution concern the rates and impacts of single nucleotide changes, neutral evolution vs. natural selection, origins of new genes, the genetic nature of complex traits, the genetic basis of speciation, evolution of development, and ways that evolutionary forces influence genomic and phenotypic changes.

Evolutionary biology The study of the processes that produced the diversity of life

Evolutionary biology is the subfield of biology that studies the evolutionary processes that produced the diversity of life on Earth. In the 1930s, the discipline of evolutionary biology emerged through what Julian Huxley called the modern synthesis of understanding, from previously unrelated fields of biological research, such as genetics and ecology, systematics and paleontology.

Polymorphism (biology) Occurrence of two or more clearly different morphs or forms in the population of a species

In biology, polymorphism is the occurrence of two or more clearly different morphs or forms, also referred to as alternative phenotypes, in the population of a species. To be classified as such, morphs must occupy the same habitat at the same time and belong to a panmictic population.

Conservation genetics

Conservation genetics is an interdisciplinary subfield of population genetics that aims to understand the dynamics of genes in populations principally to avoid extinction. Therefore, it applies genetic methods to the conservation and restoration of biodiversity. Researchers involved in conservation genetics come from a variety of fields including population genetics, molecular ecology, biology, evolutionary biology, and systematics. Genetic diversity is one of the three fundamental levels of biodiversity, so it is directly important in conservation. Genetic variability influences both the health and long-term survival of populations because decreased genetic diversity has been associated with reduced fitness, such as high juvenile mortality, diminished population growth, reduced immunity, and ultimately, higher extinction risk.

Molecular ecology A field of evolutionary biology that applies molecular population genetics, molecular phylogenetics, and genomics to traditional ecological questions

Molecular ecology is a field of evolutionary biology that is concerned with applying molecular population genetics, molecular phylogenetics, and more recently genomics to traditional ecological questions. It is virtually synonymous with the field of "Ecological Genetics" as pioneered by Theodosius Dobzhansky, E. B. Ford, Godfrey M. Hewitt, and others. These fields are united in their attempt to study genetic-based questions "out in the field" as opposed to the laboratory. Molecular ecology is related to the field of conservation genetics.

Brian Charlesworth is a British evolutionary biologist at the University of Edinburgh, and editor of Biology Letters. Since 1997, he has been Royal Society Research Professor at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IEB) in Edinburgh. He has been married since 1967 to the British evolutionary biologist Deborah Charlesworth.

Nicholas Hamilton Barton is a British evolutionary biologist.

ZW sex-determination system Chromosomal system that determines the sex of offspring in birds, some fish, some insects and crustaceans, some reptiles and some plants

The ZW sex-determination system is a chromosomal system that determines the sex of offspring in birds, some fish and crustaceans such as the giant river prawn, some insects, the schistosome family of flatworms, and some reptiles, e.g. majority of snakes, lacertid lizards and monitors including Komodo dragons. It is also used in some plants where it has probably evolved independently on several occasions. The letters Z and W are used to distinguish this system from the XY sex-determination system. In this system, females have a pair of dissimilar ZW chromosomes, and males have two similar ZZ chromosomes.

Gilean McVean

Gilean Alistair Tristram McVean is a professor of statistical genetics at the University of Oxford, director of the Big Data Institute, fellow of Linacre College, Oxford and co-founder and director of Genomics plc. He also co-chaired the 1000 Genomes Project analysis group.

Sex determination in <i>Silene</i>

Silene is a flowering plant genus that has evolved a dioecious reproductive system. This is made possible through heteromorphic sex chromosomes expressed as XY. Silene recently evolved sex chromosomes 5-10 million years ago and are widely used by geneticists and biologists to study the mechanisms of sex determination since they are one of only 39 species across 14 families of angiosperm that possess sex-determining genes. Silene are studied because of their ability to produce offspring with a plethora of reproductive systems. The common inference drawn from such studies is that the sex of the offspring is determined by the Y chromosome.

Josephine Pemberton British evolutionary biologist

Josephine M. Pemberton is a British evolutionary biologist. She is Chair of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh, where she conducts research in parentage analysis, pedigree reconstruction, inbreeding depression, parasite resistance, and quantitative trait locus (QTL) detection in natural populations. She has worked primarily on long-term studies of soay sheep on St Kilda, and red deer on the island of Rùm.

Landscape genetics Combination of population genetics and landscape ecology

Landscape genetics is the scientific discipline that combines population genetics and landscape ecology. It broadly encompasses any study that analyses plant or animal population genetic data in conjunction with data on the landscape features and matrix quality where the sampled population lives. This allows for the analysis of microevolutionary processes affecting the species in light of landscape spatial patterns, providing a more realistic view of how populations interact with their environments. Landscape genetics attempts to determine which landscape features are barriers to dispersal and gene flow, how human-induced landscape changes affect the evolution of populations, the source-sink dynamics of a given population, and how diseases or invasive species spread across landscapes.

<i>Drosophila neotestacea</i> Species of fly

Drosophila neotestacea is a member of the testacea species group of Drosophila. Testacea species are specialist fruit flies that breed on the fruiting bodies of mushrooms. These flies will choose to breed on psychoactive mushrooms such as the Fly Agaric Amanita muscaria. Drosophila neotestacea can be found in temperate regions of North America, ranging from the north eastern United States to western Canada.

Eukaryote hybrid genomes result from interspecific hybridization, where closely related species mate and produce offspring with admixed genomes. The advent of large-scale genomic sequencing has shown that hybridization is common, and that it may represent an important source of novel variation. Although most interspecific hybrids are sterile or less fit than their parents, some may survive and reproduce, enabling the transfer of adaptive variants across the species boundary, and even result in the formation of novel evolutionary lineages. There are two main variants of hybrid species genomes: allopolyploid, which have one full chromosome set from each parent species, and homoploid, which are a mosaic of the parent species genomes with no increase in chromosome number.

Loeske E. B. Kruuk is a British evolutionary ecologist who is a Royal Society Research Professor at the University of Edinburgh. She was awarded the 2018 European Society for Evolutionary Biology President's Award.

Neil Gemmell New Zealand geneticist

Neil John Gemmell, is a New Zealand geneticist. His research areas cover evolutionary genetics and genomics, molecular ecology, and conservation biology. Originally from Lower Hutt, he obtained his PhD at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. Since 2008, Gemmell has been a professor at the University of Otago and since 2019 holds one of their seven Sesquicentennial Distinguished Chairs. Significant work includes the search of the Loch Ness Monster (2018) and the sequencing of the tuatara genome. In 2020, Gemmell received the Hutton Medal by the Royal Society Te Apārangi.


  1. 1 2 Mable, Barbara; Hill, Bill (February 2008). "editorial". Genetics Research. 90 (1): 1–1. doi: 10.1017/S0016672307009093 . ISSN   1469-5073.
  2. "Deborah Charlesworth | Royal Society". Retrieved 19 November 2020.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Mable, Barbara; Hill Bill (February 2008). "Deborah Charlesworth". Genet. Res. 90 (1): 1. doi: 10.1017/S0016672307009093 . PMID   18509956 . Retrieved 24 August 2008.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "Recipient of the 2011 Molecular Ecology Prize: Deborah Charlesworth". Molecular Ecology. 21 (1): 23–25. 2012. doi:10.1111/j.1365-294X.2011.05385.x. ISSN   1365-294X.
  5. "Evolution Tree - Deborah Charlesworth". Retrieved 23 November 2020.
  6. "Biological Sciences". The University of Edinburgh.
  7. "Web of Science". 2008. Retrieved 24 August 2008.
  8. "EC/1991/08: Charlesworth, Deborah". The Royal Society.
  9. "Recipient of the 2011 Molecular Ecology Prize: Deborah Charlesworth". Molecular Ecology. 21 (1): 23–25. 2012. doi:10.1111/j.1365-294X.2011.05385.x. ISSN   1365-294X.
  10. "Genetics Society".
  11. "Awards & Grants: 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient". Society for the Study of Evolution. Retrieved 29 January 2020.
  12. "People".