Dr Celia May

Celia has a long-term interest in understanding the processes that generate variation in DNA.  This interest grew from her first exposure to research as an undergraduate – applying DNA fingerprinting to appreciate extra-marital liaisons amongst barn swallows - closely followed by a PhD developing similar DNA approaches to study bird of prey populations with Jon Wetton. In the course of this work she carried out the first proof-of-principle study for the forensic analysis of parentage in birds of prey in the UK and which paved the way for wildlife crime prosecutions.  Her doctoral work also included monitoring of the then highly endangered British population of red kites resident only in remote parts of Wales, as well as the continental birds forming reintroduction programmes to both England and Scotland. These studies identified the first highly variable avian sex-specific markers, as well as an extremely mutable locus with a pronounced sex bias in mutation rate. This raised her interest in understanding the processes that generate such variation and served as the impetus for joining Prof Sir Alec Jeffreys' world-renowned research group in Leicester, the birthplace of DNA forensic analysis.

As a post-doctoral researcher and beyond, her attention has largely turned to human DNA diversity. She specialises in using single-molecule approaches to understand how newly arising DNA variation occurs as a result of both mutation and recombination, the shuffling of parental genomes, specifically during sperm formation.  However, she has not forgotten her roots and is excited to have picked up non-human work again by applying the latest technological advances – forensic genomics. She is supervising an Illumina-sponsored iCASE PhD studentship on the applications of forensic genomics to birds of prey.

Selected publications

  • Odenthal-Hesse L, Berg IL, Veselis A, Jeffreys AJ & May CA (2014) Transmission distortion affecting human noncrossover but not crossover recombination: a hidden source of meiotic drive. PLoS Genet. 10: e1004106.
  • Berg IL, Neumann R, Lam KWG, Sarbajna S, Odenthal-Hesse L, May CA & Jeffreys AJ (2010) PRDM9 variation strongly influences recombination hot-spot activity and meiotic instability in humans. Nature Genet. 42: 859-863.
  • Jeffreys AJ & May CA (2004) Intense and highly localised gene conversion activity in human meiotic crossover hot spots. Nature Genet. 36:151-156.
  • May CA, Jeffreys AJ & Armour JAL (1996) Mutation rate heterogeneity and the generation of allele diversity at the human minisatellite locus MS205 (D16S309). Hum. Mol. Genet. 5: 1823-1833.
  • Jeffreys AJ, Allen MJ, Armour JAL, Collick A, Dubrova Y, Fretwell N, Guram T, Jobling M, May CA, Neil DL & Neumann R (1995) Mutation processes at human minisatellites. Electrophoresis 16: 1577-1585.
  • May CA, Wetton JH & Parkin DT (1993) Polymorphic sex-specific sequences in birds of prey. Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. Ser. B 253: 271-276.
  • May CA, Wetton JH, Davis PE, Brookfield JFY & Parkin DT (1993) Single-locus profiling reveals loss of variation in inbred populations of the Red Kite (Milvus milvus). Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. Ser. B 251: 165–170.
  • May CA & Wetton JH (1991) DNA fingerprinting by specific priming of concatenated oligonucleotides.  Nucl. Acids Res. 19: 4557.

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