Professor Martin Collinson

Professor Martin Collinson
BA Natural Sciences (Cantab. 1991), MA (Cantab. 1994), PhD (Edinburgh 1996)

Personal Chair

Professor Martin Collinson
Professor Martin Collinson

Contact Details

work +44 (0)1224 437518
work +44 (0)1224 437515
The University of Aberdeen Room 4.37, Institute of Medical Sciences, Foresterhill, Aberdeen AB25 2ZD


J. Martin Collinson

Graduated in Natural Sciences (Genetics) from Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge, in 1991. Obtained a PhD at the University of Edinburgh, working in the MRC Human Genetics Unit studying the roles of homeobox gene family members (Msx genes) in vertebrate embryological development.

Postdoctoral positions at the University of Edinburgh 1996-2002, studying the roles of cell adhesion molecules (Neurofascin) and transcription factors (Pax6) in vertebrate development and disease.

Appointed Lecturer at Aberdeen University, 2002.

Senior Lecturer from October 2005. Chair of the Foresterhill Junior Staff Forum. Organiser and Contact for the Biomedical Sciences Seminar Programme.

Member of the Foresterhill GM Safety Committee.

Member of the Editorial Board of the journal British Birds.

Member of the British Ornithologists’ Union Records Committee

FOR BIRD/DNA enquiries, contact


Research Interests

There are 3 major areas of work in the lab

1) The development and evolution of eyes.  There are several projects on the go. 

a) The roles of a transcription factor, Pax6, in eye development and disease . We examine how mutations in Pax6 change the cell surface properties of mutant cells, and how this may impact on the eye.

Patients with mutations in the PAX6 gene develop multiple eye abnormalities, including any or all of: aniridia (absence of iris), corneal opacity (aniridia-related keratopathy), cataract (lens clouding), glaucoma and long-term retinal degeneration. We are interested in developing new therapeutic strategies

Figure 1: The eye of a PAX6+/- aniridic patient (photograph kindly provided by Dr K, Ramaesh, University of Edinburgh). Note the corneal opacity associated with vascularisation.

b)  The development of eyes in true moles (Talpa). Moles live most of their lives underground and over evolutionary time we expect their eyes to degenerate.  We study the Iberian Mole Talpa occidentalis, in which the eyes are permanently closed, and determine how the genetic pathways that underlie eye development are breaking down in this species.

Figure 2: An adult Iberian Mole

2)  The genetic control of axon guidance and epithelial cell migration.  What pushes a cell or a growth cone from point A to point B?  We examine the relative contribution of chemical and contact mediated guidance cues in vivo.

Figure 3.  Swirling patterns of cell migration in the corneal epithelium, visualised in eyes that are mosaic for LacZ expression.

3)  The genetics and etiology of Congenital Talipes Equinovarus (clubfoot)

We study the genetic and environmental factors that underlie clubfoot - an extremely common birth abnormality (1 in 500 babies) for which virtually nothing is clear about the causes. 

Figure 4. Human bilateral clubfoot.

28th August 2011 - Interview with the Naked Scientists about the clubfoot project - see




We are looking for motivated, funded PhD students for studies in any of the above fields, e.g.

1) Genetics and molecular biology of motor neurone development and disease

2) Eye Evolution

3) Control of cell migration and wound healing

4) Genetics of human disease


Research Grants

MRC Principal Applicant. The genetic basis of clubfoot. £515,000 from October 2008  

BBSRC Principal Applicant – coholders Dr Ann Rajnicek (Univ of Aberdeen), Prof Min Zhao (UC Irvine), Prof Colin McCaig (Univ of Aberdeen) The genetic control of epithelial cell migration and wound healing physiology £643,000 from February 2007  

WELLCOME TRUST Corneal dysgenesis in the Pax6-mutant mouse – shoddy workmanship or sabotage? £245,000 from 1/9/04.  

Dr James Alexander Mearns Trust Molecular basis of gene dosage effects of Pax6 mutants £51,660 from 01/10/07.  

NHS GRAMPIAN ENDOWMENT FUND Vascularisation of the cornea £2688 from 01/04/07

NEWLIFE (Birth Defects Foundation) Aetiology and therapy of congenital corneal opacity £80,000 from July 2005 


Teaching Responsibilities

Degree Programme Coordinator:  

BSc Human Embryology and Developmental Biology.  

BSc Biomedical Sciences (Developmental Biology)

The degrees are suitable for students wanting to learn about embryology, stem cells, bioengineering, reproductive biology, wound healing, evolution and cancer.  Graduates can move on to jobs in academic and commercial jobs in embryology, clinical genetics, molecular biology and many biomedical fields.


'T-Club' - the Developmental Biology newsletter for University of Aberdeen.TClubDec12.pdf


Are you thinking about a degree in Developmental biology?  Have a look at this.

Further Info

External Responsibilities


British Society for Developmental Biology

Genetics Society

British Ornithologists’ Union (BOU)

Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland  

Member of the BOU records Committee and Convenor of the Taxonomic Committee

Member of DEFRA-registered directory of experts. European Framework 7 Expert Reviewer.  


Ibis  2009 - present

The Open Ophthalmology Journal 2007-present

The Open Ornithology Journal 2007-present

BMC Research Notes2008-present

British Birds1998-present

Ivory-billed Woodpeckers

See JMC's recent paper published 15th March 2007 in BMC Biology.

Collinson JM. 2007. Video analysis of the escape flight of Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus: does the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Campephilus principalis persist in continental North America? BMC Biology 5: 8. pdf

The paper generated much public interest and discussion e.g.

My argument is that the evidence for the rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in USA in 2004/5 is not proven, because there are features of the video of the bird in Arkansas in 2004 that are inconsistent with Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and the video is equally, if not more, consistent with Pileated Woodpecker.

Cornell University, Laboratory of Ornithology, is preparing as rebuttal.

Extra figure added 05/05/08

Aberdeen University Forensic Wildlife DNA Lab

Commercial Identification of Birds and other wildlife from forensic samples.

We can identify bird species from feathers, feces, blood samples. Airplane Birdstrikes a speciaility.

Wildife Crime - blood swabs from traps.


We can genetically sex pet birds

Typical Prices (Commercial):

Identification of blood/feather sample - £40 + VAT

Genetic sexing -  £15 + VAT

Contact Martin Collinson - to discuss your needs



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