Janet Thornton Fellowship


At the Wellcome Sanger Institute we are committed to enabling and opening routes back into science for those who have had a break from scientific research – for any reason.

Applications for 2020 are now closed. Look out for more news about the Fellowship in 2021.

Sanger Institute, Genome Research Limited

We understand that even a short time out of research can have an impact on your career, which is why we have created a postdoctoral fellowship providing an additional opportunity specifically for those who have been out of scientific research for 12 months or more to return to high-quality postdoctoral training. One Fellowship will be awarded each year. Each Fellowship will last for three years and can be worked full time, part time or flexibly.

Fellowships will be awarded after a competitive selection process, with applicants applying to one of the broad project outlines listed below. Applicants are encouraged to make contact with the named supervisor.

While the Sanger Institute provides the opportunity in its recruitment processes for job applicants to declare career breaks (taken for any reason) so that they can be taken into account when assessing applications for all roles, particularly in relation to the potential impact of time out on individuals’ scientific and career outputs, this fellowship will be open exclusively to those who have taken a career break of 12 months or more.

If you would like to learn more about a day in a life of a Janet Thornton Fellow please click here

Eligibility Criteria

  • Minimum of 12 months break from scientific research, for any reason
  • At least one year’s postdoctoral research experience
  • Not currently working in a scientific research role
  • Applicants must start the Fellowship within 6 months of being offered the position.

Application process

One Fellowship per year will be awarded after a competitive selection process, with applicants applying to the broad project outlines defined below.

Applications are made via our recruitment process and applicants are asked to provide:

  • a covering letter
  • a current CV
  • the names of two referees
  • the project they are applying to
  • the reason(s) for their break from scientific research
  • a career development plan.


The deadline for initial applications to the project outline was Friday 10 July 2020.

The project Faculty lead will then work with one selected candidate to further develop the proposal, with a deadline of Friday 18 September 2020 for final submission.

Details of the Fellowship

Fellowships last three years and can be worked full-time, part-time or flexibly. The Fellowship includes:

  • Full time (or equivalent) salary based on budgeted costs for postdocs for 2020, currently  – £32,375 – £40,586
  • Consumables of up to £18,000 per annum, dependant on the nature of the project.
  • A budget of £1,500 per annum for the Fellow to attend conferences or training.


For further information, please contact: Dr Saher Ahmed: saher.ahmed@sanger.ac.uk


Adams Project - Deep Mutational Scanning of Lynch Syndrome Genes

Supervisor: David Adams, Adams Group

Contact: david.adams@sanger.ac.uk

Lynch syndrome is associated with mismatch repair defects and identifying and validating pathogenic variants in the genes that predispose to this condition represents a major clinical challenge with implications for disease prevention and early detection. Patients with this condition develop a range of tumours including cancers of the bowel, pancreas, ovary and prostate.

At present there are more than 2852 germline variants in five key MMR genes (MSH2, MSH6, MLH1, MLH3 are PMS2) that are annotated as being pathogenic or likely pathogenic, and a further 5823 variants that are of uncertain or conflicting functional impact. Improved understanding of these variants is crucial for appropriate clinical management of MMR germline variant carriers and their families, including genetic counselling and surveillance for new tumours.

The Adams lab is currently engaged in an international consortium to scale a method called deep mutational scanning to functionally assess each and every variant in cancer genes. As part of this project we plan to use this technology to build a map of all functional amino acids in the MMR genes as a resource to complement clinical decision making in patients with a potential diagnosis of Lynch syndrome.

Blaxter Project - Tree of Life Genomics

Supervisor: Mark Blaxter, Blaxter Group

Contact: mark.blaxter@sanger.ac.uk

Mark Blaxter’s team is embedded in the Tree of Life programme at Sanger. The Tree of Life programme has an overarching goal of using very high quality reference genome sequences across the diversity of life to understand pattern and process in evolution, to aid conservation of biodiversity and to provide the raw data for emerging biotechnologies. Within my team we are using the reference genomes emerging from the Darwin Tree of Life project (a decadal project to generate genome sequences for all eukaryotic species in Britain and Ireland), the Aquatic Symbiosis Genomics project (which focuses on the varied symbioses that drive marine and freshwater ecosystems) and our own specific interests (for example in nematodes and lepidopterans). These data drive new approaches to inferring the phylogenetic trees of life, defining the evolution of genome structure and content, and identifying the drivers of evolutionary change in symbiotic systems (from parasitism to mutualism).

We are looking for a candidate with a strong evolutionary genomics background to join us and the Tree of Life Programme as a Janet Thornton research fellow. The Janet Thornton fellow will lead and develop a project that illuminates specific branches of the tree of life, explores particular major evolutionary transitions and investigates the importance of particular genomic processes in Eukaryota. Winning approaches will leverage the emerging Darwin and Aquatic Symbiosis genomes, commission sequencing of new taxa, and will use innovative approaches in analysis and interpretation.

If you are interested in this opportunity, have experience in the general area of evolutionary genomics, and have had a career break for at least 12 months, please get in direct touch.

Lawniczak Project - Arthropod Genomics

Supervisor: Mara Lawniczak, Lawniczak Group

Contact: mara@sanger.ac.uk

At the Sanger Institute, we are leading the Darwin Tree of Life project, which is a decade long ambitious consortial project aiming to build high quality reference genomes for all eukaryotic species found in the British Isles. Alongside this, we are also carrying out population and evolutionary genomics research projects on natural populations of insects both in the UK and abroad.

Our primary research aims are to use genomics to define and understand species interactions in ecosystems and to investigate cryptic speciation in various species complexes of insects using high quality long read and long range sequencing data. We are looking for a candidate with a strong ecological genomics background to join the lab and the Tree of Life and/or Parasites and Microbes Programmes as a Janet Thornton research fellow and develop projects in this general area making maximal use of the Darwin Tree of Life reference genomes for arthropods and leading investigations into particular groups of insects that fit within the general remit of using genomics to study speciation and species interactions.

If you are interested in this opportunity, have experience in the general area of evolutionary genomics, and have had a career break for at least 12 months, please get in direct touch.

Lee Project - Exploring the genes of unknown function of the malaria parasite

Supervisor: Marcus Lee, Lee Group

Contact: marcus.lee@sanger.ac.uk

The genome sequence of the human malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, was released nearly two decades ago, yet up to a third of the >5000 genes still have no known function. These genes hold the key to fundamental insights into parasite biology, as well as potential therapeutic targets that may be highly selective due to their absence in humans.

This project will use integrated bioinformatic and experimental approaches to investigate genes about which nearly nothing is known but that may contribute to essential parasite processes. To initially prioritise genes of interest, we will mine existing data encompassing: genetic screens for essentiality in human and rodent malaria species; gene expression throughout the parasite lifecycle, including the Malaria Cell Atlas; in-depth homology search and structure prediction; and conservation across Plasmodium species and patient isolates worldwide.

By building a ranked list of candidates, we will then apply a ‘full court press’ of experimental approaches on candidates of particular interest, including CRISPR knock-out or conditional knock-down, tagging and localisation, mass spectrometry-based detection of interacting partners and -omics-based investigation of knockout or knockdown lines, and potentially structural investigation for tractable targets.

The project has enormous potential to open up new insight into parasite biology and identify novel druggable targets.

Teichmann Project: Genomic and computational dissection of tissue architectures

Supervisor: Sarah Teichmann, Teichmann Group

Contact: sarah.teichmann@sanger.ac.uk

Single cell genomics and spatial gene expression technologies can now be combined to provide high resolution maps of tissues. These methods are now routine, robust and scalable, and can be applied to mapping tissues in human development as well as mature adult tissues across the lifespan and across genders, and in health versus disease states. There are fundamental questions about cell lineages (e.g.in haematopoiesis, immunity, etc.), systems (e.g. skin, vasculature, immunity) and organs (e.g. kidney, lung, reproductive tissues, endometrium/decidua etc.) that can be addressed with these approaches.

We welcome postdoctoral projects that focus on specific biological tissues or systems, as well as on general overarching questions that span multiple tissues. We also value methods development projects (computational or experimental) that advance the study of tissue architectures using genomics technologies.

Trynka/Bassett Project: Building variant effect maps of immune disease genes with CRISPR saturation mutagenesis

Supervisors: Gosia Trynka, Trynka Group and Andrew Bassett, Gene Editing and Cellular Research and Development

Contact: gosia@sanger.ac.uk, andrew.bassett@sanger.ac.uk

Disease associated genetic variants provide a unique insight into disease biology as they directly implicate causal genes and processes. The ability to link disease associated signals to their downstream effects provides critical information for improved disease diagnosis, treatment response, and the development of novel more effective therapies. Identifying gene targets for which there are naturally occurring genetic variants which perturb gene function to different degrees can provide an efficient way to reconstruct drug response curves, therefore genetically informing effective treatment options. For example, loss-of-function variants correspond to complete drug inhibition while non-coding variants that down-regulate gene expression are equivalent to partial suppression.

We are looking for a candidate with strong experimental skills and immunology background to use and develop a CRISPR toolkit in saturation mutagenesis approaches such as multiplex HDR and base editing to help us quantify the effects of variants on immune cell functions. This is an excellent opportunity to join a vibrant team of researchers to lead on an innovative research line. You will be interacting closely with: the Trynka team, the Immune Genomics group who study how human genetic variation impacts the immune system and predisposes to development of autoimmune diseases and the Bassett team, the Gene Editing and Cellular Research and Development team that is leading the development of genome engineering tools at Sanger. You will be also interacting closely with the Open Targets community, the public-private partnership at the Genome Campus that uses human genetics and genomics data for systematic drug target identification and prioritisation.