MRC Human Genetics Unit
Medical Research Council Human Genetics Unit

Jim Wilson Research Group (Affiliate)

Quantitative traits in health and disease

Research in a Nutshell 

Professor J.Wilson
Professor Jim Wilson - Personal Chair of Human Genetics

Research in my group spans the interface of population and disease genetics, with a focus on the genetic architecture of complex traits and the identification of genetic variants influencing quantitative risk factors for common diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. I am particularly interested in high kinship isolate populations which have increased utility for rare variant discovery, but we also make use of the UK Biobank and Generation Scotland resources. I am principal investigator of the the ORCADES and VIKING studies, platform resources for health research to which we continue to recruit participants from the Northern Isles of Scotland.

My major research interest is in homozygosity and the potential role of recessive genetic variants in determining disease risk – I steer an international consortium of 102 cohort studies and ~350,000 research participants (ROHgen) which seeks to understand the effect of inbreeding depression on complex traits. After developing the methods to measure homozygosity and describing the global distribution, we demonstrated an effect of genome-wide homozygosity on height and cognition, implying they have been subject to directional selection during human evolution. We are now focussing on understanding the mechanism and delineating further the scope of inbreeding depression in humans, as well as attempting to map the effects we see to particular regions of the genome.

I also lead a second international consortium of >100 cohorts, Ygen, which is assessing the influence of Y chromosome variation on complex traits. Using exome chip markers I designed, we are surveying a broad range of medical and evolutionary traits for Y chromosome effects, which have been routinely ignored in genome-wide association studies. I have recently inaugurated the KinGen partnership of 17 cohort studies with high kinship, to facilitate the large scale application of new methods to these special cohorts.

Longevity is a growing area of interest in our group, being in various ways the ultimate complex trait. Other research themes in my group at present include the genetics of fat distribution, food preference and fertility.

I run a study of Multiple Sclerosis in Orkney and Shetland, focussing both on genetics and the role of vitamin D. A final strand of activity is in population genetics, particularly focussed on the genetic history of the British Isles, where I was the first to discover genetic evidence for Norse Viking ancestry.


Research Programme

J.Wilson group



Professor Jim Wilson Group Leader
Dr Peter Joshi Chancellor’s Fellow
Dr Nicola Pirastu Chancellor’s Fellow

Dr Xia Shen

Chancellor's Fellow
Erin Macdonald-Dunlop PhD Student
Linda Repetto PhD Student
Katie Barnes PhD Student
David Clark PhD Student
Paul Timmers PhD Student
Katherine Kentistou PhD Student
Ciara McDonnell PhD student
Eryk Grzeszkowiak PhD student
Arianna Landini PhD student
Sebastian May-Wilson PhD student



  • IGMM, University of Edinburgh: Prof Malcolm Dunlop, Prof David Porteous, Prof Colin Semple, Prof Wendy Bickmore, Dr Andrew Wood, Prof Stuart Ralston
  • University of Edinburgh: Prof Harry Campbell, Prof Ian Deary, Prof Igor Rudan, Prof Nik Morton, Prof Brian Walker, Prof Sarah Wild
  • University of Tartu, Estonia: Dr Tonu Esko, Dr Krista Fischer
  • University of Trieste, Italy: Dr Ilaria Gandin, Prof Paolo Gasparini
  • Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute: Hinxton, UK: Prof Ele Zeggini
  • University of Split, Croatia: Dr Ozren Polasek
  • University of Zagreb, Croatia: Prof Gordan Lauc
  • University of Helsinki, Finland: Prof Markus Perola, Hannele Mattson
  • University of Uppsala, Sweden: Prof Ulf Gyllensten, Dr Asa Johansson
  • Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City, USA: Dr Claudia Schurmann
  • Icelandic Heart Association, Reykjavik, Iceland: Dr Albert Smith
  • European Academy, Bolzano, Italy: Prof Peter Pramstaller, Dr Andrew Hicks, Dr Cristian Pattaro, Dr Christian Fuchsberger

Partners and Funders

  • Medical Research Council
  • Chief Scientist Office of Scottish Government
  • Shetland and Orkney Multiple Sclerosis Research Project

Scientific Themes

genetic architecture, rare variants, GWAS, isolated populations, cohort studies, inbreeding depression, runs of homozygosity, Multiple Sclerosis, vitamin D, bodyfat, retinal vessels, Y chromosome, mtDNA, multi-omics, lifespan, food preferences

Technology Expertise

The Wilson group is a dry group with expertise in population and quantitative genetics, including genome-wide association, mixed models, polygenic risk scores, quantitative traits, whole genome sequence analysis, pipelining, running cohort studies