Recorded: 08 May 2008
I’m born in Stockholm. So my parents was coming from – So, I’m born in ‘54 in Stockholm, and at that time people were moving in from the country-side into Stockholm. So my father grew up on a farm outside Stockholm, and mother comes from the north. And you could say, when I was a kid my main interest was nature and birdwatching, so that was the way how I became interested in biology , the study of birds and animals and so on.
My parents were a – my mother was a housewife, which was very common at that time, and my father was working with flowers, in fact. So he had a business where he was importing flowers and he was selling flowers in Stockholm.
My interest for science became from – I was part of a – it was a group in Sweden at that time which were interested in biology for kids. So I went out doing birdwatching and that type of thing. And then I went to university, and did chemistry and biology.
So I went to university in Stockholm, at the University of Stockholm, and I took chemistry and biology. And I will go on? Okay, so and when I was graduating from university my plan was to do biology of natural populations, in fact study genetics of natural populations. So my first research experiments was to study the genetics of the Atlantic herring. So I tried to figure out how much genetic difference there were between the herring which were living in Atlantic versus the Baltic Sea, which is a very different environment. But then it happened that I got a position in Uppsala, at the agriculture university, so I started to work with domestic animals and I was commuting from Stockholm to Uppsala. That’s a 45 minutes train ride, every morning, every evening, and during that time I was reading a lot. One of the books I was reading was The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. And what I realized then was that – so, Charles Darwin used domestic animal as a proof of principle. So he said, since we can change the phenotypes of domestic animals by breeding, artificial selection, he would say that the same process was going on in nature by natural selection. So what I realized in the early ‘80s was that the new technologies with molecular genetics, would now give us the tools to go one step further to understand what has happened with domestic animals. So my vision, all the way since the beginning of the ‘80s has been to reconstruct the evolutionary history of domestic animals. And what is so fascinating is that I now see that with the tools we have these days, with this high-throughput sequencing, we are very close to be able to do that.
I got a position in Uppsala to work on domestic animals, and while I was doing that work I realized how much fascinating biology there is with the domestic animal, how domestic animals have been adapted to different environments and different production systems, so if you really would like to understand how genes determine phenotypes domestic animals is a wonderful model. Because it’s a ten thousand year history, so millions of people have been working with millions of animals and selected the animals with preferred traits and now we have the tools to understand what’s been going on with the past.
Leif Andersson is a professor in Functional Genomics at Uppsala University and guest professor in Molecular Animal Genetics at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala.
His research group did pioneering work using domestic animals for genetic dissection of monogenic and multifactorial traits. Main research project includes genetic analysis of divergent intercrosses in chicken, horses and pigs. Andersson's group describe the genes and mutations affecting a certain trait and study the mechanism of the genes and regulatory elements affected by the mutations.