Ross Houston departs the Roslin Institute

The team recounts their time working with our esteemed Personal Chair of Aquaculture Genetics.

During his time at Roslin, Ross occasionally encountered non-aquaculture species.


This month, the Aquaculture team, the Roslin Institute, and the University of Edinburgh bid a fond farewell to Professor Ross Houston, the Personal Chair of Aquaculture Genetics. Ross has begun in a new position with Benchmark Genetics as their Director of Innovation after almost two decades with the University of Edinburgh.

We reached out to a number of Ross’ colleagues during his time at the University for stories of shared work and time together. Roslin staff had a great deal to say about the ways in which Ross has helped his colleagues over the years.

“Ross was instrumental in recruiting me to the Roslin Institute, and gave me great support before and after I was appointed and subsequently promoted to Personal Chair,” remarked Dan Macqueen, Personal Chair of Aquaculture Genomics. “I am really grateful for his support over the last few years, and remain in awe of what Ross has achieved during his career, both academically and through his impactful research links with industry (and most importantly in his running career!).”

Tim Bean, a Career Track Fellow and one of Ross’ other close colleagues within the Aquaculture team, reflected on their shared research history. “I first met Ross via a mutual colleague who had worked with him on disease challenges between a minor aquaculture species (Salmon!?) and a virus called IPN (you probably haven’t heard of it but apparently it used to cause a fair bit of disease back in the day). At the time, I was hoping it would be possible to bring a modern genetics toolbox to the world of oysters,” Tim recounts. “Ross was suggested as a good person to work with. I had no idea how instrumental Ross was in the developing world of aquaculture genetics and genomics and, to be honest, I genuinely didn’t realise the impact this collaboration would have. The reality has been a whirlwind (whirlpool?) of change—knowing and working with Ross has had a huge influence on my career.”

Ross crosses the line in a Scottish running competition.

Colleagues of Ross’ over the years also remarked on his positive influence on shared projects. Andrea Wilson, Professor of Infectious Disease Genetics and Modelling, worked alongside him for many years and recalled his indomitable spirit. “Despite our hardest efforts, I never saw Ross getting stressed or worked up. A true leader! I think Roslin should work on introgressing Ross’ keep-a-cool-head gene into its research population, now that cloning Ross would be out of fashion.”

“Ross is calm and considered,” Tim said, “And often highly professional. His wealth of knowledge and willingness to collaborate and share means that those who work with him are always raised to a higher level in terms of output and discovery. The work we achieved in oyster genomics, driven by Ross, demonstrated techniques that catalysed global change in shellfish breeding practices. These successes mean that we are now able to fund research into both fundamental and applied aspects of shellfish biology.”

Having seen Ross progress within Roslin from postdoc, through Fellow to Group Leader and latterly as one of the Institute’s Deputy Director, it is of course a loss to see him leave,” writes Bruce Whitelaw, Personal Chair of Animal Biotechnology. “However, Ross leaves knowing that aquaculture has grown in activity within the Institute, not least through the recruitment over the last few years of very talented individuals. He leaves aquaculture in a good place.”

Many of Ross’ other colleagues provided us with stories of working with Ross and well wishes for him as he begins in his new role. We’ve included their comments below, alongside more pictures taken by colleagues at Roslin.

I will always be grateful for the opportunity to work at Roslin and to be part of this incredible aquaculture science team, which was brought about primarily by the progressive thinking of Houston. I wish him all the best travelling the world with Benchmark, and hope that he is able to enjoy a good work-life balance, yet kept busy enough to prevent the dismantling of any Corby trouser presses.

Tim BeanCareer Track Fellow

My favourite memories of Ross are spending time hanging out and having some cracking banter during ‘free time’ on trips abroad to conferences, involving stunning locations like St Johns (Newfoundland) and Victoria (British Columbia) in Canada. This included some memorable fishing moments—one fishing for cod at sea where Diego Robledo turned green. On another trip with Ross and Sam Martin (from Aberdeen) we went salmon fishing in Whistler, British Columbia; here, Ross filmed the moment when I lost the biggest fish (probably a chum salmon) I ever hooked on a rod—a classic ‘fisherman’s tale’ that I have bored many colleagues and friends with over the years! We have also enjoyed several runs together in such locations, where I was first introduced by Ross to the joys of Strava. I wish Ross nothing but all the best in his future endeavors with Benchmark and look forward to future collaborations with Roslin.

Dan MacqueenPersonal Chair of Aquaculture Genomics

We joined on the same day in 1st June 2004, working for the same boss, The Great, Steve Bishop. Ross was working on fish and I on sheep. At one point, we shared offices in the old Roslin building which allowed us to collaborate on many projects be they on fish, pigs or sheep. I remember helping in training Indian students on QTL mapping organised by Ross. Ross was more molecular orientated, so he helped in my search of causative mutations in leg weakness in pigs. We attended our first World Congress on Genetics Applied to Livestock Production in Brazil in 2006, and many other conferences since then, and the memories will live on. I used to attend Genetics and Genomics group Christmas dinner every two years. A few of us used to end up going out for a drink and music after the dinner with Ross and others.

“On a personal note, I have to thank Ross for giving my daughters his ‘old’ mobile phones when he switched on to new handsets which were, apparently, much more trendy that the ‘bricks’ that I was offering them! My family, along with friends from Roslin, had a day out cheering-on on Ross when he ran for Scotland in the Commonwealth Marathon in Glasgow, in 2014. Wow! What a magnificent achievement.

“On a business note, we had many papers together. Ross, it was great working with you, you will be missed and I wish you the best in your new endeavour. Hope we can keep in touch.

Ozzie MatikaRoslin Institute Research Fellow

“I look back on my time at Roslin with very fond memories, and have built so many great relationships with some exceptional people,” says Ross. “I’m really proud of the aquaculture genetics team, which is truly packed full of talent and excellent team-working spirit. As I take on the new role with Benchmark, I look forward to the new challenges of implementing some of the latest technologies into commercial practice. It’s going to be a learning curve for me, but I love a challenge. My friends at Roslin will not get rid of me though—I will maintain close contact and continue to work in some collaborative projects with the Aquaculture team.”

Ross' colleagues cheer him on outside of work as in his Roslin endeavours.

Before his role concluded, the Aquaculture team and friends from within the University and beyond joined together to celebrate Ross’ accomplishments through his eighteen years at the Roslin Institute. We wish Ross every success in his new role with Benchmark—fortunately we’ll still be collaborating closely across some aquaculture projects, as related above, and Benchmark and Roslin alike are lucky to benefit from Ross’ immense expertise and impactful leadership. Congratulations and all the best to Professor Ross Houston!

As of January 2020, the Roslin Institute's aquaculture team includes over 25 members.


Ross partakes in a game of Secret Santa alongside colleagues.


This picture of Ross was taken during a trip to Utah.