Professor Chris Gilligan - BSPP President


Chris Gilligan

The President of BSPP, Christopher Gilligan is an epidemiologist. He holds a personal chair in Mathematical Biology in the Department of Plant Sciences at Cambridge, where he is also a Fellow of King's College and Director of Studies in Natural Sciences.

Originally trained as a biologist at Oxford where he graduated in 1974 with a degree in Agricultural and Forest Sciences followed by a D.Phil. in plant pathology under the direction of Bob Lucas, Mike Asher and John Burnett in the Department of Agricultural Science, Chris moved to Cambridge in 1997, first as a University Demonstrator to teach Plant Pathology, Plant Breeding and Biometry in the Department of Applied Biology. This was followed by positions as University Lecturer in Plant Pathology, Reader in Mathematical Biology and Royal Society Leverhulme Trust Senior Research Fellow, before being appointed to his current post. His interests have expanded to include statistics and mathematics as well as biology and teaching is now focused on the interface between biology and mathematics.

Chris Gilligan's research within the Epidemiology and Modelling Group at Cambridge is centred on the use of mathematics and experimentation to unravel the dynamics of botanical epidemics. The aim is to derive and test a theory that will explain why some diseases invade and persist, while others do not, and to understand the mechanisms at a range of scales from the microscopic growth of fungal hyphae in soil, through fungal colony dynamics to the generation of disease patches and the regional spread of disease. The experimental work has encompassed a range of soil-borne plant pathogens and biological control agents. Foremost amongst these are Rhizoctonia solani (mostly on radish and potato) and Trichoderma viride, Gaeumannomyces graminis on wheat and Pseudomonas spp., and more recently Meloidogyne incognita on tomato and Verticillium chlamydosporium. Many of the ideas developed and tested for these systems have been adapted for other diseases. The theoretical interests have been extended to other plant pathogens, notably Sclerotinia minor and Sporidesmium sclerotivorum on lettuce, Polymyxa betae and rhizomania disease of sugar beet, Dutch elm disease including hypovirulence, as well as to the spread of fungicide resistant parasites. The research also encompasses parallels with animal and human diseases leading to collaborative studies to analyse persistence of seal distemper virus that killed many seals in the North Sea in the 1980s (which contrasts with the persistence of Dutch elm disease) and to the historical and contemporary risk of epidemics of bubonic plague (which illustrates the effect of a reservoir of infection on disease persistence rather like saprotrophic dynamics).