Centre for Health and Bioinformatics


Professor T. Martin Embley FMedSci FRS

Professor of Evolutionary Molecular Biology


Martin Embley is Professor of Evolutionary Molecular Biology in the Biosciences Institute at the Medical School, Newcastle University

Areas of expertise

  • The investigation of early eukaryotic evolution using genomics, cell and molecular biology
  • Computational evolution, particularly the use of phylogenetics to explore gene and genomic origins
  • Parasites and their minimal mitochondria (mitosomes and hydrogenosomes) as models for understanding the essential functions of mitochondria for all eukaryotes

Awards and roles

  • Elected Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS 2019)
  • Vice Chair, Marie Sklodowska-Curie International Training Networks, Environment Panel (2018 - to date)
  • Elected to the European Academy for Microbiology (2016)
  • Vice Chancellor’s Award for Academic Distinction (2016)
  • Member of Editorial Board, Genome Biology and Evolution (2011 - to date)
  • Vice Chair, Marie Sklodowska-Curie Individual Fellowships, Environment Panel (2011 - 2018)
  • Elected Fellow of the UK Academy of Medical Sciences (FMedSci 2011)
  • ERC Advanced Investigator Award (2011-2017)
  • Wellcome Trust Programme Grant (2010-2016)
  • Elected Member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (2009)
  • Elected Fellow of the American Academy for Microbiology (2008)
  • Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award (2006-2011)
  • Scientific Associate, Department of Life Sciences, The Natural History Museum (2004 to date)
  • Associate Editor, Molecular Biology and Evolution (2002-2011)
  • Member of Editorial Board, Environmental Microbiology (2000-2006)
  • Member of the Canadian Institute of Advanced Research (1996-2007)
  • Visiting Professor to the Universities of Aberdeen, Essex, Kings College, Liverpool and Newcastle (1996-2004)
  • Senior Principal Scientific Officer IMP (Individual Merit Promotion), the Natural History Museum (2001-2004)
  • Principal Scientific Officer, Dept. Zoology, the Natural History Museum (1992-2001)
  • Senior Scientific Officer, Dept. Zoology, the Natural History Museum, London (1991-1992)
  • Principal Lecturer in Microbiology, University of East London (1988-1991)
  • Lecturer in Microbiology, University of East London (1983-1988)
  • PhD in Microbiology, Newcastle University (1979-1983)

Google scholar: Click here.


Research Interests

We are interested in the early evolution of eukaryotic cells, their genomes and their organelles related to mitochondria (hydrogenosomes and mitosomes).  We use anaerobic and parasitic eukaryotes including Giardia, Trichomonas and particularly Microsporidia as our models.  We also investigate how reductive evolution has affected the biology of obligate intracellular Microsporidia parasites that infect most animal groups including humans.  Our work has the following broad themes:


We use whole genome data to investigate the contrasting roles of vertical and horizontal inheritance, including genes of endosymbiotic origins, in shaping eukaryotic genomes. We also study the effects of reductive evolution on parasite genomes.


We are developing better methods, based upon likelihood and Bayesian approaches, for phylogenetic analysis of molecular data. Our aim is to improve the reconstruction of phylogenetic trees relevant to understanding the early evolution of eukaryotes.

Cell Biology

We have a long term interest in the discovery and characterisation of reduced organelles (hydrogenosomes, mitosomes) related to mitochondria.  Our investigations are aimed at identifying the essential functions of mitochondria for eukaryotes.  In these studies we have often used the tiny minimal mitochondria (mitosome) of Microsporidia - which we discovered - as a model system.  More recently we have become interested in how Microsporidia use transport proteins to steal resources from infected host cells.

Two reviews that give an overview of our interests in eukaryotic evolution:

Williams, TA, Foster, PG, Cox, CJ and Embley, TM. (2013).  An archaeal origin of eukaryotes supports only two primary domains of life.  Nature 504: 231-236.

Embley, TM and Martin W. (2006). Eukaryotic evolution, changes and challenges.  Nature 440: 623-630.

Two recent papers that give an insight into our work on Microsporidia molecular cell biology:

Dean, P, Sendra, KM, Williams, TA, Watson , AK,  Major, P, Nakjang, S, Kozhevnikova, E, Goldberg, AV, Kunji, ERS, Hirt, RP and Embley, TM. (2018).  Transporter gene acquisition and innovation in the evolution of Microsporidia intracellular parasites. Nature Communications 9: 1709.  (there is also a commentary on this paper by Lukes and Husnik in Current Biology: Microsporidia: A single horizontal gene transfer drives a great leap forwards.  doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2018.05.031).

Freibert, SA, Goldberg, AV, Hacker, C, Molik, S, Dean, P, Williams, TA, Nakjang, S, Long, S, Sendra, K, Heinz, E, Hirt, RP, Lucocq, JM, Embley, TM and Lill R. (2017).  Evolutionary conservation and in vitro reconstitution of microsporidian iron-sulphur cluster biosynthesis.  Nature comunications 8: 13932.



Undergraduate Teaching

I teach undergraduate modules on genomics and evolution.  I also lecture on DNA methods to archaeologists and on evolution and phylogenetics to computer scientists.

International workshops

We have run an EMBO-funded workshop on Computational Molecular Evolution since 1998. The teaching material including all of the slides and practicals for the 2018 EMBO course (in Faro, Portugal) can be downloaded using the link below (copy it into your browser it will not work from here).

EMBO 2017 Workshop on Computational Molecular Evolution, Teaching Materials: