Sir Adrian Bird is a professor of genetics at Edinburgh University, where he has spent most of his career. He is described as a pioneer of epigenetics, and he designed, among other things, the first mouse model of Rett syndrome.
Sir Adrian Bird was born and grew up in England. He received his PhD from Edinburgh University in 1970 for describing how the epigenetic mechanism underlying DNA methylation can affect the function and expression of various genes. Furthermore, in 1992, he discovered the MECP2 gene, which Huda Zoghbi later proved to be the cause of Rett syndrome, and he showed how, together with other proteins, MECP2 in neurons binds to methylated DNA sequences, thus ‘switching off’ certain genes. This is vital for neurons to function normally.
Sir Adrian Bird’s group designed the first, and most common, mouse model of Rett syndrome. Since the neurons are not destroyed but merely degenerate in individuals with Rett syndrome, he decided to use the mouse model to investigate whether restoring the function of the MECP2 gene would enable the cells to work again. It turned out that, to some extent, the symptoms were reversible, and the surprising findings indicate that, in all probability, we will be able to cure Rett syndrome in humans. It has also changed the view held in brain research circles that neurological developmental disorders are irreversible.
Sir Adrian Bird was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2014.