Julian Rayner

Wow! Thanks so much for the votes, and congrats to all the scientists who were on. It was a huge amount of fun, and it feels like we are old friends, even though we have only ever met in strange cyber-chat land...

Favourite Thing: Look at data! Science is all about the details, and there is no thrill greater than seeing the outcome of that experiment that you dreamed up while cycling home. Nine times out of ten it doesn’t tell you what you expected, but that is half the fun!



Cashmere High School, Christchurch, New Zealand. 1983-88.


Undergrad – Lincoln University, New Zealand, 1989-92. Postgrad – Cambridge, England. 1993-1997.

Work History:

I did a postdoctoral fellowship at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, USA for four years. CDC is the US public health institute, very interesting place to work, made friend with people working with unusual pathogens like Ebola Virus. Then started my own research group at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and was there 2002 – 2008 before moving to the Sanger Institute.


Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge, UK.

Current Job:

Run a research group working with human malaria parasites, trying to come up with new ways to treat and prevent disease.

Me and my work

I try to understand how malaria parasites recognise and invade human red blood cells, in order to develop new ways to block invasion and treat malaria, which kills more than a million children every year.

My Typical Day

On any given day it includes talking data with my team, answering e-mails, writing papers or grants, giving talks, sitting in meetings, reading papers, and planning experiments – keeps me on my toes.

What I'd do with the money

Cover the travel expenses of schools so that they can come visit the Sanger Institute where I work – most of the human genome was sequenced here, and there is a great program where schools can visit and learn about genetics and DNA.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Passionately seeking a cure. Whoops, that’s four.

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Changes by the week. Currently have Adele and Ray LaMontagne on alternating loop.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

After my PhD I island hopped around Greece for three months. After working insanely hard in the lab, it was just a wonderful relaxing break.

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

Can I include stuff that’s impossible? Just at the moment, cloning myself would be one wish – maybe three clones, one clone could be answering e-mails and doing deskwork, one clone could be in the lab doing experiments, and one clone could be out climbing a mountain.

What did you want to be after you left school?

A scientist. Geeky, but true.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

I want to say yes, but I have to say no.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Recently published a paper establishing that gorillas and chimpanzees are heavily infected with malaria, and that it was a malaria parasite from gorillas that jumped to humans to cause the human epidemic. Cool mix of conservation, molecular biology and evolution to answer a question that has bugged us for a long time. A huge thrill.

Tell us a joke.

My son just told me this one this morning – Q: What did the peanut say to the police officer? A: Help, I’ve been a-salted.