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Department of Plant Sciences


Research Group 


Research Overview

In light of environmental change there is an urgent need to address key societal challenges such as food security and biodiversity loss. An effective strategy to mitigate risk is to provide accurate forecasting models to avoid the devastating consequences of emerging epidemics that threaten crops, forests and culturally-valued trees. My research focuses on establishing and testing theoretical frameworks to identify epidemiological mechanisms to improve the prediction and control of outbreaks of pathogens and pests within changing agricultural and natural landscapes. Together with my team, we develop applications for monitoring large-scale pandemics and design intervention strategies for invasive pathogens and pests in subsistence agriculture. Current projects are targeted at desert locust as well as major pathogens and insect vectors on wheat, cassava, banana and citrus.

Working closely with collaborators, our models have been used to inform policy on emerging pest and pathogen threats by the UK Government, United States Department of Agriculture and Australia. A current research programme supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, provides practical applications for surveillance and management of disease of staple crops in 15 sub-Saharan African Countries, Bangladesh and Nepal. We have successfully released an early warning system for wheat rusts in Ethiopia in collaboration with the UK Met Office, CIMMYT and the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research that is now being extended with in-country partners to Kenya, Bangladesh and Nepal.


School of Biological Sciences Theme Affiliations


Current Positions

  • 2020-present Director of Research, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge
  • 1988-present Fellow, King’s College, University of Cambridge

Previous Positions

  • 2009-2013 Head of the School of Biological Sciences, University of Cambridge
  • 2008-2009 Deputy Head of the School of Biological Sciences, University of Cambridge
  • 1999-2020 Professor of Mathematical Biology, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge
  • 1995-1999 Reader in Mathematical Biology, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge
  • 1989-1995 University Lecturer, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge
  • 1982-1989 University Lecturer, Department of Applied Biology, University of Cambridge
  • 1982-1982 Visiting Professor, Department of Botany & Plant Pathology, Colorado State University
  • 1977-1982 University Demonstrator, Department of Applied Biology, University of Cambridge



  • 1999 ScD, University of Cambridge
  • 1978  MA, University of Oxford
  • 1977  MA, University of Cambridge
  • 1974-1978  DPhil Plant Pathology, Wolfson College, University of Oxford
  • 1971-1974  BA Agricultural & Forest Sciences, Keble College, University of Oxford

All Publications


 Key publications


Awards and Fellowships

  • 2015  CBE for Services to Plant Pathology in the field of Epidemiology (Queen’s Birthday Honours)
  • 2012  R.W. Holley Lecturer, Cornell University
  • 2005 - 2010  Professorial Research Fellow, BBSRC (UK National Research Council)
  • 2009  Fisher Lecturer, Rothamsted Research
  • 2005  Honorary Fellow, American Phytopathological Society
  • 2001  President, British Society for Plant Pathology
  • 2000  Professorial Fellow, King's College, Cambridge
  • 1999  ScD, University of Cambridge
  • 1999  Personal Chair, University of Cambridge
  • 1998-1999  Senior Research Fellow, Royal Society Leverhulme Trust
  • 1998-2013  Honorary Research Fellow, Rothamsted Research

Principal Boards, Trusteeships

  • 2021-2024  Trustee, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
  • 2021-2024  Trustee, James Hutton Institute, Scotland
  • 2011-2019  Trustee, Natural History Museum, London, Prime Ministerial Appointment
  • 2011-2014  Chair, Science Advisory Council, DEFRA
  • 2011-2014  Chair, Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership Board
  • 2003-2009  Council Member, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
  • 2009-2013  General Board Member, University of Cambridge
  • 1998-2008  Trustee, Silsoe Research Institute

Chairing of National Scientific Reviews

  • 2012-2013  Chair, UK Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Taskforce
  • 2008  Chair, BBSRC Council Science Group for Institute of Animal Health
  • 2006  Chair, BBSRC Chair Review Institute of Animal Health
  • 2003-2004  Chair, BBSRC Council Review of Crop Science Research
  • 2003 Chair, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA),  Evaluation Commission for National Research on Plant Health and Environment



Range of courses in epidemiology, plant pathology, statistics and mathematical biology. Designed and led for many years an innovative 60-lecture course with practicals in Quantitative Biology (now Mathematical Biology) that introduced first year biology students with the equivalent of A-level mathematics to modelling, computing and statistical analysis.






Selected press and media (2012-2022)

BBC Radio interviews on epidemiological research:  Radio 4 World at One (Jan 2013), Farming Today (Dec 2012); Local Radio: Naked Scientist (Dec 2012), Radio Cambridgeshire (Mar 2013), Radio 4, Today Programme (May 2013), Radio 4 Material World (May 2013), Radio 4, Costing the Earth (March, 2014).

BBC Television interviews on epidemiological research: BBC Newsnight (May 2013), BBC News 24 (May 2013), Countryfile (June 2013).

Science Museum, London: Plant plagues and crop contagions, Science Lates in connection with Gates Foundation Grand Challenges (Oct. 2016).

CoP26: Wheat Rust Early Warning System in Ethiopia. Jointly with the Cambridge Epidemiology and Modelling Group, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre and the UK Met Office Because Farmers Feed Us All: COP26 Blue Zone Science Pavilion event (Oct. 2021).

+ Director of Research and Head, Epidemiology and Modelling Group
+ Fellow, King's College, Cambridge
Professor Chris  Gilligan

Contact Details

Email address: 
Department of Plant Sciences,
Downing Street,
01223 748986