Professor Bryan Michael Turner FMedSci FRS

Professor Bryan Michael Turner

Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences
Emeritus Professor Of Experimental Genetics

Contact details

Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences
Institute of Biomedical Research
College of Medical and Dental Sciences
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Bryan Turner is an internationally recognised expert in the fields of epigenetics and gene regulation. He has published over 140 research papers in scientific journals as well as reviews and book chapters. He has written a long-lived book on his specialist research area (Chromatin and Gene Regulation: Mechanisms in Epigenetics, Blackwell Scientific 2001). He has received major grants from Cancer Research UK, The Wellcome Trust, Leukaemia Research Fund and Medical Research Council.  


  • Fellow of the Royal Society 2015
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry 2011
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology 2011
  • Member of European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) 2003
  • Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences 2000
  • PhD Human Biochemical Genetics, University of London 1973
  • BSc (Hons) Biochemistry, University College London 1969


Bryan Turner carried out his PhD in the MRC Human Biochemical Genetics Unit, Galton Laboratory, UCL. Following a year as a research technician at the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), Mill Hill, he spent 5 years (1973-78) in Clinical Genetics at the Mt Sinai School of Medicine, New York, researching lysosomal storage diseases and carrying out early gene mapping studies. He then spent three years back at NIMR (Immunology) where he attempted to define ways in which monoclonal antibodies (then a relatively new technology) could be used to identify and characterise proteins involved in DNA packaging and function. Antibody-based technologies continued to underpin his research following his move to the Anatomy Department, University of Birmingham, in 1981.  Bryan Turner was one of ten co-applicants on the successful bid to the Wellcome Trust that provided funding to build the Institute for Biomedical Research (IBR), into which he moved in 2003.

He founded the Postdoctoral Training and Career Development programme (now PERCAT), an initiative designed to increase awareness of our postdoctoral researchers, and their laboratory supervisors, of the wide range of career opportunities open to them and of their shared responsibilities for planning a career path. He has an ongoing interest in improving and widening career opportunities for young scientists and increasing awareness of the links between science and other creative arts.


Ad hoc lectures

Postgraduate supervision

No formal supervision post-retirement.


Since establishing his research laboratory in Birmingham in the early 1980s, Bryan Turner’s research has focused on how the packaging of DNA by proteins (primarily the histones) can influence gene expression (ie. can turn genes on and off). The primary focus, and achievement so far, has been to show that the histones can be modified at specific amino acid residues by an ever growing variety of enzymes. These enzymes attach and remove chemical moieties such as acetate, methyl or phosphate groups, thereby altering the packaging of DNA in subtle ways and potentially influencing how genes are expressed. Using novel antibodies as molecular probes, the Birmingham group demonstrated that modification (by acetylation) of just a single amino acid residue on one of the four core histones could exert a significant effect of gene expression. It was proposed that individual histone modifications usually operate by acting as receptors for non-histone binding proteins that then, in turn, alter DNA packaging and gene expression (Cell 75, 5-8, 1993). The identification of such binding proteins has confirmed this proposition and the Turner group continues to explore ways in which environmental factors, including chemotherapeutic agents, can alter gene expression through changes in the activities of histone modifying enzymes or binding proteins.

The group uses model systems based primarily of human or mouse cells grown in culture, including embryonic stem cells. Experimental; approaches continue to be based on the use of antibodies specific for particular modified histones, primarily chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) and immunomicroscopy. Novel approaches have been developed that allow the group to work with small numbers of cells and thereby to explore environmentally induced changes in the early embryo or in cell sub-populations isolated by flow cytometry. Sophisticated microscopical approaches provide information on the distribution of histone modifications in single cells, allowing comparison of normal and cancer cells.

Other activities

  • Committee membership
  • Royal Society Partnership grants (allocating funds to allow school teachers and their pupils to carry out research projects)
  • Royal Society Collaborative grants (funding collaborative research with a focus on issues relevant to the developing world)
  • UoB Public Engagement in Research Committee (PERC)