Biography:Richard M. Durbin

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Richard Durbin
Richard Durbin, Wellcome-Sanger, Cambridge, UK (2698443141).jpg
Richard Durbin in his office at WTSI
Richard Michael Durbin

(1960-12-30) 30 December 1960 (age 63)[1]
Alma materUniversity Cambridge (BA, PhD)
Known for
  • Biological Sequence Analysis[2]
Julie Ahringer (m. 1996)
  • Mullard Award (1994)
  • FRS (2004)[3]
  • EMBO member (2009)[4]
  • Gabor Medal (2017)
Scientific career
ThesisStudies on the development and organisation of the nervous system of Caenorhabditis elegans (1987)
Doctoral advisorJohn G. White[6]
Notable students

Richard Michael Durbin, FRS,[3] born (1960-12-30) 30 December 1960 (age 63),[1] is a British computational biologist. He is currently an Associate Faculty member at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute [17] and Professor of Genetics at the University of Cambridge.[18][19] Previously, he was Senior Group Leader at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute for over 20 years [20][21][22][23][5][24] and an Honorary Professor of Computational genomics at the University of Cambridge.[25]


Durbin was educated at The Hall School Hampstead[citation needed] and Highgate School in London.[1] After competing in the 1978/9 International Mathematical Olympiad,[26] he went on to study at the University of Cambridge graduating in 1982[27] with a first class honours degree on the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos. After graduating, he continued to study for a PhD[6] at St John's College, Cambridge[1] studying the development and organisation of the nervous system of Caenorhabditis elegans[28] whilst working at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge, supervised by John Graham White.


Durbin's early work included developing the primary instrument software for one of the first X-ray crystallography area detectors[29] and the MRC Biorad confocal microscope, alongside contributions to neural modelling.[30][31]

He then led the informatics for the Caenorhabditis elegans genome project,[32] and alongside Jean Thierry-Mieg developed the genome database AceDB, which evolved into the WormBase web resource. Following this he played an important role in data collection for and interpretation of the human genome sequence.[33]

He has developed numerous methods for computational sequence analysis.[34][35] These include gene finding (e.g. GeneWise) with Ewan Birney[36] and Hidden Markov models for protein and nucleic acid alignment and matching (e.g. HMMER) with Sean Eddy and Graeme Mitchison. A standard textbook Biological Sequence analysis coauthored with Sean Eddy, Anders Krogh and Graeme Mitchison[2] describes some of this work. Using these methods Durbin worked with colleagues to build a series of important genomic data resources, including the protein family database Pfam,[37] the genome database Ensembl,[38] and the gene family database TreeFam.[11]

More recently Durbin has returned to sequencing and has developed low coverage approaches to population genome sequencing, applied first to yeast,[39][40] and has been one of the leaders in the application of new sequencing technology to study human genome variation.[41][42] Durbin currently co-leads the international 1000 Genomes Project to characterise variation down to 1% allele frequency as a foundation for human genetics.

Awards and honours

Durbin was a joint winner of the Mullard Award of the Royal Society in 1994 (for work on the confocal microscope), won the Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran Award of the Foundation for Science and Technology in 2004, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2004[3] and a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) in 2009. The Royal Society awarded its Gabor Medal to Durbin in 2017 for his contributions to computational biology.[43]

Durbin's certificate of election for the Royal Society reads:

Personal life

Durbin is the son of James Durbin and is married to Julie Ahringer, a scientist at the Gurdon Institute. They have two children, Benjamin and Zoe.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 "DURBIN, Richard Michael". Who's Who. 2016 (online edition via Oxford University Press ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc.  (subscription or UK public library membership required) (Subscription content?)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Durbin, Richard M.; Eddy, Sean R.; Krogh, Anders; Mitchison, Graeme (1998), Biological Sequence Analysis: Probabilistic Models of Proteins and Nucleic Acids (1st ed.), Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, doi:10.2277/0521629713, ISBN 0-521-62971-3, OCLC 593254083, 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Professor Richard Durbin FRS Fellow". London: Royal Society. Archived from the original on 2015-11-19. 
  4. EMBO welcomes 66 leading life scientists as members
  5. 5.0 5.1 {{Google Scholar id}} template missing ID and not present in Wikidata.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Durbin, Richard (1987). Studies on the development and organisation of the nervous system of Caenorhabditis elegans (PhD thesis). University of Cambridge. OCLC 499178924.
  7. Eddy, S. R.; Mitchison, G; Durbin, R (1995). "Maximum discrimination hidden Markov models of sequence consensus". Journal of Computational Biology 2 (1): 9–23. doi:10.1089/cmb.1995.2.9. PMID 7497123. 
  8. Eddy, S. R.; Durbin, R (1994). "RNA sequence analysis using covariance models". Nucleic Acids Research 22 (11): 2079–88. doi:10.1093/nar/22.11.2079. PMID 8029015. 
  9. Li, H.; Durbin, R. (2009). "Fast and accurate short read alignment with Burrows-Wheeler transform". Bioinformatics 25 (14): 1754–1760. doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/btp324. PMID 19451168. 
  10. Li, H.; Ruan, J.; Durbin, R. (2008). "Mapping short DNA sequencing reads and calling variants using mapping quality scores". Genome Research 18 (11): 1851–1858. doi:10.1101/gr.078212.108. PMID 18714091. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Li, H.; Coghlan, A.; Ruan, J.; Coin, L. J.; Hériché, J. K.; Osmotherly, L.; Li, R.; Liu, T. et al. (2006). "TreeFam: A curated database of phylogenetic trees of animal gene families". Nucleic Acids Research 34 (90001): D572–D580. doi:10.1093/nar/gkj118. PMID 16381935. 
  12. "Heng Li Credits Durbin Pedigree in Accepting Franklin Award". Archived from the original on 2013-02-27. 
  13. Bateman, A.; Coin, L.; Durbin, R.; Finn, R. D.; Hollich, V.; Griffiths-Jones, S.; Khanna, A.; Marshall, M. et al. (2004). "The Pfam protein families database". Nucleic Acids Research 32 (Database issue): 138D–1141. doi:10.1093/nar/gkh121. ISSN 0305-1048. PMID 14681378.  open access
  14. "The Pfam protein families database". Nucleic Acids Research 30 (1): 276–280. 2002. doi:10.1093/nar/30.1.276. PMID 11752314. 
  15. Bateman, A; Birney, E; Durbin, R; Eddy, S. R.; Howe, K. L.; Sonnhammer, E. L. (2000). "The Pfam protein families database". Nucleic Acids Research 28 (1): 263–6. doi:10.1093/nar/28.1.263. PMID 10592242. 
  16. Bateman, A.; Birney, E.; Durbin, R.; Eddy, S.; Finn, R.; Sonnhammer, E. (1999). "Pfam 3.1: 1313 multiple alignments and profile HMMs match the majority of proteins". Nucleic Acids Research 27 (1): 260–262. doi:10.1093/nar/27.1.260. PMID 9847196. 
  17. www-core (webteam). "Durbin, Richard" (in en-GB). 
  18. "Durbin Group — Department of Genetics" (in en). 
  19. "Professor Richard Durbin — Department of Genetics" (in en). 
  20. "Dr Richard Durbin – Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute". Archived from the original on 2012-03-05. 
  21. Durbin, Richard M.'s publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (Subscription content?)
  22. Richard Durbin archive collection Richard Durbin entry in the Wellcome Library archive.
  23. {{Twitter}} template missing ID and not present in Wikidata.
  24. {{DBLP}} template missing ID and not present in Wikidata.
  25. "Honorary Professors". Cambridge University Reporter (University of Cambridge) CXLV (5). 12 December 2014. Archived from the original on 2015-03-15. 
  26. Richard M. Durbin's results at International Mathematical Olympiad
  27. "The BioInformer nr. 1, 1997 – Interview with Dr. Richard Durbin". Archived from the original on 2011-07-30. Retrieved 2011-07-30. 
  28. Durbin, Richard (1987). Studies on the development and organisation of the nervous system of Caenorhabditis elegans (PhD thesis). University of Cambridge.
  29. Durbin, R. M.; Burns, R.; Moulai, J.; Metcalf, P.; Freymann, D.; Blum, M.; Anderson, J. E.; Harrison, S. C. et al. (1986). "Protein, DNA, and virus crystallography with a focused imaging proportional counter". Science 232 (4754): 1127–1132. doi:10.1126/science.3704639. PMID 3704639. 
  30. Durbin, R.; Willshaw, D. (1987). "An analogue approach to the travelling salesman problem using an elastic net method". Nature 326 (6114): 689–691. doi:10.1038/326689a0. PMID 3561510. 
  31. Durbin, R.; Mitchison, G. (1990). "A dimension reduction framework for understanding cortical maps". Nature 343 (6259): 644–647. doi:10.1038/343644a0. PMID 2304536. 
  32. c. Elegans Sequencing, C. (1998). "Genome sequence of the nematode C. Elegans: A platform for investigating biology". Science 282 (5396): 2012–2018. doi:10.1126/science.282.5396.2012. PMID 9851916. 
  33. Lander, E. S.; Linton, M.; Birren, B.; Nusbaum, C.; Zody, C.; Baldwin, J.; Devon, K.; Dewar, K. et al. (February 2001). "Initial sequencing and analysis of the human genome". Nature 409 (6822): 860–921. doi:10.1038/35057062. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 11237011. 
  34. Simpson, J. T.; Durbin, R. (2011). "Efficient de novo assembly of large genomes using compressed data structures". Genome Research 22 (3): 549–556. doi:10.1101/gr.126953.111. PMID 22156294. 
  35. Eilbeck, K.; Lewis, S. E.; Mungall, C. J.; Yandell, M.; Stein, L.; Durbin, R.; Ashburner, M. (2005). "The Sequence Ontology: A tool for the unification of genome annotations". Genome Biology 6 (5): R44. doi:10.1186/gb-2005-6-5-r44. PMID 15892872. 
  36. Birney, E.; Durbin, R. (2000). "Using GeneWise in the Drosophila annotation experiment". Genome Research 10 (4): 547–548. doi:10.1101/gr.10.4.547. PMID 10779496. 
  37. Sonnhammer, E. L. L.; Eddy, S. R.; Durbin, R. (1997). "Pfam: A comprehensive database of protein domain families based on seed alignments". Proteins: Structure, Function, and Genetics 28 (3): 405–420. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1097-0134(199707)28:3<405::AID-PROT10>3.0.CO;2-L. PMID 9223186. 
  38. Hubbard, T.; Barker, D.; Birney, E.; Cameron, G.; Chen, Y.; Clark, L.; Cox, T.; Cuff, J. et al. (2002). "The Ensembl genome database project". Nucleic Acids Research 30 (1): 38–41. doi:10.1093/nar/30.1.38. PMID 11752248. 
  39. Liti, G.; Carter, D. M.; Moses, A. M.; Warringer, J.; Parts, L.; James, S. A.; Davey, R. P.; Roberts, I. N. et al. (2009). "Population genomics of domestic and wild yeasts". Nature 458 (7236): 337–341. doi:10.1038/nature07743. PMID 19212322. 
  40. Warringer, J.; Zörgö, E.; Cubillos, F. A.; Zia, A.; Gjuvsland, A.; Simpson, J. T.; Forsmark, A.; Durbin, R. et al. (2011). Kruglyak, Leonid. ed. "Trait variation in yeast is defined by population history". PLOS Genetics 7 (6): e1002111. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002111. PMID 21698134. 
  41. Bentley, D. R.; Balasubramanian, S.; Swerdlow, H. P.; Smith, G. P.; Milton, J.; Brown, C. G.; Hall, K. P.; Evers, D. J. et al. (2008). "Accurate whole human genome sequencing using reversible terminator chemistry". Nature 456 (7218): 53–59. doi:10.1038/nature07517. PMID 18987734. 
  42. Li, H.; Durbin, R. (2011). "Inference of human population history from individual whole-genome sequences". Nature 475 (7357): 493–496. doi:10.1038/nature10231. PMID 21753753. 
  43. "Gabor Medal - Gabor Medallist 2017". The Royal Society. 2017. Retrieved 10 October 2017. 
  44. "Library and Archive Catalogue". London: The Royal Society. Retrieved 2013-11-14.