I became fascinated with the natural world when I was very young. I began my research career studying the effects of metal pollution on microorganisms and the tolerance that some plants display to high concentrations of toxic metals. I then became excited by DNA and worked on mitochondrial genes in fungi in order to learn the new (in those days) techniques for gene cloning and DNA sequencing. I contributed to the discovery of mitochondrial Group 1 introns and to work that described the base-paired structure of these introns. I then became interested in ancient DNA and was one of the first people internationally to carry out DNA extractions with bones and preserved plant remains. This work has required close collaboration with archaeologists, both in Manchester and elsewhere, and has led to my current interests in the origins of agriculture, genetic profiling of archaeological skeletons, and the evolution of disease.
I was appointed Professor of Biomolecular Archaeology at UMIST in 2000 and was Head of Biomolecular Sciences at UMIST from 2002–2004, the two years leading up to the merger of UMIST and the Victoria University of Manchester and the successful creation of the new Faculty of Life Sciences. I then acted as Associate Dean for Communication and External Relations in FLS until 2006, and more recently as Head of the Molecular Systems Section.
I have also written a number of undergraduate textbooks including Gene Cloning and DNA Analysis: An Introduction (6th edition, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010) and Genomes (3rd edition, Garland Science, 2006). As well as new editions of these books, I have recently written a new introductory genetics textbook published by Garland in 2011 and, with Keri Brown, a book on Biomolecular Archaeology published by Wiley-Blackwell, also in 2011.