Professor Michael Ashburner: archives

  • Michael Ashburner (1942-2023)
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


Material relating to Ashburner's scientific work including: the Adh region of the Drosophila genome; at the European Bioinformatics Institute; early sequence analysis and mapping materials; sample genetic data; FlyBase; sample autoradiographs; research notes and photographs; publications, including drafts and manuscripts; and unpublished work, such as an Abstracted Bibliography on the Cytogenetics of Diptera.

Material relating to Ashburner's professional life including: correspondence; trip and travel files; lecture notes; grants and subject files; advisory committee files; files on societies and organisations; and notes from meeting and seminar.

The collection also contains career and biographical material; collected papers on the history of genetics; collected papers on whole genome sequencing; teaching papers from his role as a lecturer at the University of Cambridge; and undergraduate exercise books.

The date range includes the publication dates of papers collated by Ashburner. The date range of the papers he created is 1959-2011.



Physical description

322 boxes, 2 outsize boxes, 19 outsize folders, 214 digital items


The files have been arranged into the following sections to best reflect how they were created and used:

Section A: Laboratory work

Section B: Bioinformatics work

Section C: European Bioinformatics Institute papers

Section D: Subject files

Section E: Publications

Section F: University of Cambridge papers

Section G: Conference and meetings papers

Section H: Correspondence

Section I: Sun files

Acquisition note

Material collected from various rooms in the Department of Genetics, University of Cambridge and Michael Ashburner's house between August 2011 and October 2012.

Biographical note

Michael Ashburner was born on 23 May 1942. He gained his BA in genetics (1964), PhD (1968) and ScD (1978) from Churchill College, Cambridge, where he has also been a Fellow since 1980. He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1990. Ashburner died on 7 July 2023.

Ashburner spent the majority of his career in the Department of Genetics at the University of Cambridge as a research assistant (1966-68), University demonstrator (1968-73), University lecturer (1973-80), Reader in Developmental Genetics (1980-91) and Professor of Biology (1991-2009). He was made a Professor Emeritus in 2010. Ashburner also undertook a postdoctoral research position at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1968.

Much of Ashburner's research has centred on Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly), a model organism used for the study of fundamental problems in biology. In the late 1970s his laboratory began studying the Adh region of its genome, named after the gene encoding the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase found here. Continuous work on this region over the next 20 years produced a detailed picture and meant that it was the best know region of the genome.

In May 1998 the public Berkeley Drosophila Genome Project controversially collaborated with Celera Genomics to sequence the genome of Drosophila melanogaster by whole-genome shotgun sequencing. This technique had previously only been used for small bacterial genomes. Its application for Drosophila was viewed as an opportunity to test whether it would work for larger genomes, with the eventual aim of using it to sequence the human genome. As the Adh region was the best known genome region it was used for testing the sequencing and annotation techniques. The sequence was published in Science in March 2000. Ashburner published his account of this collaboration in Won for All: How the Drosophila Genome was Sequenced (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2006).

Ashburner was instrumental in establishing the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) as an outstation of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) as well as securing its location in the UK. He served as the research programme co-ordinator (1994-98) and joint-head with Graham Cameron (1998-2001).

Ashburner was also an early pioneer in the application of computers to biology and was heavily involved in setting up FlyBase as a central database for Drosophila genetic information.

Related material

Michael Ashburner was interviewed about his work as part of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory oral history collection. He was interviewed about the development of EMBL-EBI as part of a film produced for the Institute's 20th anniversary celebrations.

Terms of use

This collection has been catalogued and is available to library members. Some items have access restrictions which are explained in the item-level catalogue records.

Permanent link


Accession number

  • 1837
  • 1847
  • 1863
  • 1912
  • 1894
  • 1927
  • 1946
  • 1955
  • 1961