The University of Tartu has conferred the degree of Honorary Doctor of Bioinformatics on Professor Ewan Birney for his excellent research work, international cooperation, role as an advocate of open science, and long-term research cooperation with Estonia, incl. support to University of Tartu researchers.
John Frederick William (“Ewan”) Birney was born on 6 December 1972 in London. He completed his BA degree in Biochemistry at the University of Oxford and defended his PhD at the Sanger Institute while a postgraduate student at Cambridge University. He is now an honorary professor at the University of Cambridge. Ewan Birney is also deputy director general of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and a joint director of the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI).
The research of Ewan Birney combines the fields of bioinformatics and genomics. He has contributed to the global projects on sequencing and the first complete analysis of the human DNA and the DNA of other model organisms like mouse, chicken, and others. Birney was a significant contributor to the ENCODE project that aimed to build an “encyclopedia” of all functional elements of human DNA. He was one of the founders of the Ensembl database and has led its development for many years. He serves as a non-executive director of Genomics England – one of the pioneers of personalised medicine, chairs the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH), and advises several companies. He has published many high-impact research articles, including those on the major genome projects, to several of which he has contributed as a leader and an excellent technical and scientific developer.
Ewan Birney has received several awards and honours. In 2003, he gave the inaugural Francis Crick Lecture at the Royal Society and, in 2005, was awarded the Overton Prize by the International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB). He has also received the Benjamin Franklin Award for developing open-source tools for bioinformatics. He is Commander of the Order of the British Empire, Fellow of the Royal Society and the Academy of Medical Sciences.
Ewan Birney has largely contributed to the development of bioinformatics and genomics globally, promoted the international renown of researchers of the University of Tartu and Estonia and formed the new generation of Estonian bioinformatics researchers. He has collaborated with several Estonian researchers at the EMBL-EBI, in joint EU research projects and the bioinformatics infrastructure ELIXIR. This has brought many new contacts and development opportunities to Estonian researchers. He has also helped Estonian research find recognition in bioinformatics tools, genomics, and personalised medicine. The international reputation, renown and visibility of Estonia and the University of Tartu in bioinformatics and genomics have significantly increased thanks to good cooperation with Ewan Birney.