Adrian has held the Buchanan Chair of Genetics at the University of Edinburgh since 1990. He was founding director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology and is deputy director of the Simons Initiative for the Developing Brain. Adrian graduated in biochemistry from the University of Sussex in 1968 and obtained his PhD at Edinburgh University; subsequent roles included Senior Scientist at the newly-founded Institute for Molecular Pathology in Vienna. He was a governor of the Wellcome Trust (2000-2010), a trustee of Cancer Research UK (2011-2017) and has chaired the Crick’s Scientific Advisory Board since 2017.
Adrian's research focuses on the biological and biomedical significance of DNA methylation and other epigenetic processes. His laboratory identified CpG islands as gene markers in the vertebrate genome and discovered proteins that read the DNA methylation signal to influence chromatin structure. Mutations in one of these proteins, MeCP2, cause the severe neurological disorder Rett Syndrome, for which the Bird laboratory established the first animal model. Unexpectedly, his group showed that the resulting severe neurological phenotype can be cured.
Adrian is a Fellow of the Royal Society and received a knighthood in 2014. Other awards include the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine, the Gairdner International Award, the Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine and the 2020 “Brain Prize” of the Lundbeck Foundation.