Dr Robert Belshaw

Dr Robert Belshaw

Associate Professor in Genomics

School of Biomedical Sciences (Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry)


Ph.D. (Biology) Imperial College London

M.Sc.(Bioarchaeology) University College London

B.Sc.(I) and M.Sc. (Zoology) University of Manchester

Professional membership

Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

Teaching interests

2014 – 2017. Emmanuel Atangana Maze: Endogenous Retroviruses as Immunotherapy Targets – Director of Studies
2015 – present. Hujaz Alqirbi: In vitro characterization of a low-fidelity ‘mutator’ CMV as an added level of control for CMV vaccines – Co-Supervisor
2016 – present. Bora Agit: Endogenous Retroviral proteins as potential drug targets for Merlin-deficient tumours – Co-Supervisor
2016 – present. Roxane Dunbar: Active human retrotransposons and disease – Co-Supervisor

2016 – present. Randa Ali: LINE-1 elements: Genomic distribution and potential contribution to brain related disorders – Co-Supervisor

Bioinformatics – Programme Lead
Medical Genomics and Personalised Medicine – Lecturer
Molecular Biology: Genomics, Transcriptomics and Proteomics – Lecturer
Project Design and Development – Lecturer

Clinical Microbiology (2nd year) – Lecturer
Current Developments in Biomedical Science (3rd year) – Lecturer

Research interests

The proteins that make up our body are coded for by less than 2% of our genome sequence. Around half of the remaining 98% is made up of the remains of genomic parasites: pieces of DNA that copy themselves to new locations, often causing damage as they do so. Some of these genomic parasites are called endogenous retroviruses (ERVs). My research prior to moving to Plymouth had centred on finding out what controls the spread and proliferation of ERVs in host genomes, and also trying to discover if they were replicating in the human population today. Here at Plymouth I am concentrating on the possible roles of ERVs in human disease and therapy. For example, they appear to be contributing to Merlin-deficient tumour proliferation and might offer a good drug target here. They might even turn out to be useful: although generally silenced in our cells, this control breaks down in many cancers leading to viral proteins being produced on the surface of cells. If we could use these proteins as a target for cell killing by manufactured antibodies or engineered patient T-cells, it would open up a promising new line of therapy. We are also examining the extent to which ERVs are interacting with the innate immune system, with implications for autoimmune/inflammatory disease and vaccine design.

Grants & contracts

2009 – 2013. Principal Investigator, Wellcome Trust, "The Evolution and Present Day Activity of Endogenous Retroviruses". £383,000.
2014 – 2015. Co-Investigator, Action on Hearing Loss, "Endogenous Retroviral proteins as potential immunotherapy and/or drug targets for Merlin-deficient tumours treatment and their role in vestibular neuroma development." £5,000.
2016 – 2019. Co-Investigator, Action Medical Research, "The role of endogenous retroviral proteins in the development of Merlin-deficient tumours and their as potential as drug and immunotherapy targets." £65,000.
2016 – 2018. Project Lead, Plymouth University PedRIO award (Pedagogic Research and Teaching Innovation Fund), "From OncoSim to OncoWiki: evaluating OncoSim's educational effectiveness." £8,500.
2017 – 2021. Participant, EU Horizon 2020, "Integrated platform for brain cancer diagnostic techniques (AiPBAND)." €3,700,000.
2018 – 2019. Project Lead, Plymouth University Medical School Education Awards, "OncoWiki: an interactive approach to teaching cancer genomics." £4,800.

Key publications are highlighted

Li X, Wang H, Long J, Pan G, He T, Anichtchik O, Belshaw R, Albani D, Edison P & Green EK 2018 'Systematic Analysis and Biomarker Study for Alzheimer's Disease' Scientific Reports 8, Author Site , DOI PEARL
Pavesi A, Vianelli A, Chirico N, Bao Y, Blinkova O, Belshaw R, Firth A & Karlin D 2018 'Overlapping genes and the proteins they encode differ significantly in their sequence composition from non-overlapping genes' PLOS ONE 13, (10) Author Site , DOI
Long J, Pan G, Ifeachor E, Belshaw R & Li X 2016 'Discovery of Novel Biomarkers for Alzheimer’s Disease from Blood' Disease Markers 2016, 1-9 , DOI PEARL
Li X, Long J, He T, Belshaw R & Scott J 2015 'Integrated genomic approaches identify major pathways and upstream regulators in late onset Alzheimer’s disease' Scientific Reports 5, (1) , DOI PEARL
Magiorkinis G, Blanco-Melo D & Belshaw R 2015 'The decline of human endogenous retroviruses: extinction and survival' Retrovirology 12, Author Site , DOI
Marchi E, Kanapin A, Magiorkinis G & Belshaw R 2014 'Unfixed endogenous retroviral insertions in the human population' J Virol 88, (17) 9529-9537 Author Site , DOI
Katzourakis A, Magiorkinis G, Lim AG, Gupta S, Belshaw R & Gifford R 2014 'Larger mammalian body size leads to lower retroviral activity' PLoS Pathog 10, (7) Author Site , DOI
Magiorkinis G, Belshaw R & Katzourakis A 2013 ''There and back again': revisiting the pathophysiological roles of human endogenous retroviruses in the post-genomic era' Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 368, (1626) 20120504-20120504 , DOI
Paraskevis D, Magiorkinis G, Magiorkinis E, Ho SYW, Belshaw R, Allain J-P & Hatzakis A 2013 'Dating the origin and dispersal of hepatitis B virus infection in humans and primates' Hepatology 57, (3) 908-916 Author Site , DOI
Magiorkinis G, Sypsa V, Magiorkinis E, Paraskevis D, Katsoulidou A, Belshaw R, Fraser C, Pybus OG & Hatzakis A 2013 'Integrating phylodynamics and epidemiology to estimate transmission diversity in viral epidemics' PLoS Comput Biol 9, (1) Author Site , DOI
Magiorkinis G, Gifford RJ, Katzourakis A, De Ranter J & Belshaw R 2012 'Env-less endogenous retroviruses are genomic superspreaders' Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 109, (19) 7385-7390 Author Site , DOI
Karlin D & Belshaw R 2012 'Detecting remote sequence homology in disordered proteins: discovery of conserved motifs in the N-termini of Mononegavirales phosphoproteins' PLoS One 7, (3) Author Site , DOI
Belshaw R, Sanjuán R & Pybus OG 2011 'Viral mutation and substitution: units and levels' Curr Opin Virol 1, (5) 430-435 Author Site , DOI
Chirico N, Vianelli A & Belshaw R 2010 'Why genes overlap in viruses' Proc Biol Sci 277, (1701) 3809-3817 Author Site , DOI
Sanjuán R, Nebot MR, Chirico N, Mansky LM & Belshaw R 2010 'Viral mutation rates' J Virol 84, (19) 9733-9748 Author Site , DOI
Belshaw R & Tristem M 2009 'Do humans have replication-competent endogenous retroviruses?' Retrovirology 6, (Suppl 2) P10-P10 , DOI
Gifford RJ, Katzourakis A, Belshaw R & Nixon DF 2009 'Paleovirology of human endogenous retroviruses' Retrovirology 6, (Suppl 2) P40-P40 , DOI
Belshaw R, de Oliveira T, Markowitz S & Rambaut A 2009 'The RNA virus database' Nucleic Acids Res 37, (Database issue) D431-D435 Author Site , DOI
Armitage AE, Katzourakis A, de Oliveira T, Welch JJ, Belshaw R, Bishop KN, Kramer B, McMichael AJ, Rambaut A & Iversen AKN 2008 'Conserved footprints of APOBEC3G on Hypermutated human immunodeficiency virus type 1 and human endogenous retrovirus HERV-K(HML2) sequences' J Virol 82, (17) 8743-8761 Author Site , DOI
Belshaw R, Gardner A, Rambaut A & Pybus OG 2008 'Pacing a small cage: mutation and RNA viruses' Trends Ecol Evol 23, (4) 188-193 Author Site , DOI
Belshaw R, Pybus OG & Rambaut A 2007 'The evolution of genome compression and genomic novelty in RNA viruses' Genome Res 17, (10) 1496-1504 Author Site , DOI
Belshaw R, Watson J, Katzourakis A, Howe A, Woolven-Allen J, Burt A & Tristem M 2007 'Rate of recombinational deletion among human endogenous retroviruses' JOURNAL OF VIROLOGY 81, (17) 9437-9442 Author Site , DOI
Pybus OG, Rambaut A, Belshaw R, Freckleton RP, Drummond AJ & Holmes EC 2007 'Phylogenetic evidence for deleterious mutation load in RNA viruses and its contribution to viral evolution' Mol Biol Evol 24, (3) 845-852 Author Site , DOI
Belshaw R & Bensasson D 2006 'The rise and falls of introns' Heredity (Edinb) 96, (3) 208-213 Author Site , DOI
Belshaw R, Dawson ALA, Woolven-Allen J, Redding J, Burt A & Tristem M 2005 'Genomewide screening reveals high levels of insertional polymorphism in the human endogenous retrovirus family HERV-K(HML2): Implications for present-day activity' JOURNAL OF VIROLOGY 79, (19) 12507-12514 Author Site , DOI
Belshaw R, Katzourakis A, Pac?es J, Burt A & Tristem M 2005 'High Copy Number in Human Endogenous Retrovirus Families is Associated with Copying Mechanisms in Addition to Reinfection' Molecular Biology and Evolution 22, (4) 814-817 , DOI
Belshaw R & Katzourakis A 2005 'BlastAlign: a program that uses blast to align problematic nucleotide sequences' Bioinformatics 21, (1) 122-123 Author Site , DOI
Belshaw R, Pereira V, Katzourakis A, Talbot G, Paces J, Burt A & Tristem M 2004 'Long-term reinfection of the human genome by endogenous retroviruses' Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 101, (14) 4894-4899 Author Site , DOI
BELSHAW R, GRAFEN A & QUICKE DLJ 2003 'Inferring life history from ovipositor morphology in parasitoid wasps using phylogenetic regression and discriminant analysis' Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 139, (2) 213-228 , DOI
VEEN FJFV, BELSHAW R & GODFRAY HCJ 2003 'The value of the ITS2 region for the identification of species boundaries between Alloxysta hyperparasitoids (Hymenoptera: Charipidae) of aphids' European Journal of Entomology 100, (3) 449-453 , DOI
Belshaw R & Quicke DLJ 2003 'The cytogenetics of thelytoky in a predominantly asexual parasitoid wasp with covert sex' Genome 46, (1) 170-173 Author Site , DOI
Belshaw R & Quicke DLJ 2002 'Robustness of ancestral state estimates: evolution of life history strategy in ichneumonoid parasitoids' Syst Biol 51, (3) 450-477 Author Site , DOI
Manzari S, Polaszek A, Belshaw R & Quicke DLJ 2002 'Morphometric and molecular analysis of the Encarsia inaron species-group (Hymenoptera: Aphelinidae), parasitoids of whiteflies (Hemiptera: Aleyrodidae)' Bull Entomol Res 92, (2) 165-176 Author Site , DOI
Dowton M, Belshaw R, Austin AD & Quicke DLJ 2002 'Simultaneous molecular and morphological analysis of braconid relationships (Insecta: Hymenoptera: Braconidae) indicates independent mt-tRNA gene inversions within a single wasp family' J Mol Evol 54, (2) 210-226 Author Site , DOI
BELSHAW R, LOPEZ-VAAMONDE C, DEGERLI N & QUICKE DLJ 2001 'Paraphyletic taxa and taxonomic chaining: evaluating the classification of braconine wasps (Hymenoptera: Braconidae) using 28S D2-3 rDNA sequences and morphological characters' Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 73, (4) 411-424 , DOI
Sanchis A, Michelena JM, Latorre A, Quicke DLJ, Ga¨rdenfors U & Belshaw R 2001 'The Phylogenetic Analysis of Variable-Length Sequence Data: Elongation Factor–1α Introns in European Populations of the Parasitoid Wasp Genus Pauesia (Hymenoptera: Braconidae: Aphidiinae)' Molecular Biology and Evolution 18, (6) 1117-1131 , DOI
Dolphin K, Belshaw R, Orme CD & Quicke DL 2000 'Noise and incongruence: interpreting results of the incongruence length difference test' Mol Phylogenet Evol 17, (3) 401-406 Author Site , DOI
Belshaw R, Dowton M, Quicke DL & Austin AD 2000 'Estimating ancestral geographical distributions: a Gondwanan origin for aphid parasitoids?' Proc Biol Sci 267, (1442) 491-496 Author Site , DOI
Belshaw R, Quicke DLJ, Volkl W & Godfray HCJ 1999 'Molecular Markers Indicate Rare Sex in a Predominantly Asexual Parasitoid Wasp' Evolution 53, (4) 1189-1189 , DOI
Quicke DLJ & Belshaw R 1999 'Incongruence Between Morphological Data Sets: An Example from the Evolution of Endoparasitism Among Parasitic Wasps (Hymenoptera: Braconidae)' Systematic Biology 48, (3) 436-454 , DOI
MU-Ller CB, Adriaanse ICT, Belshaw R & Godfray HCJ 1999 'The structure of an aphid-parasitoid community' Journal of Animal Ecology 68, (2) 346-370 , DOI
Quicke DLJ, Lopez-Vaamonde C & Belshaw R 1999 'Preservation of hymenopteran specimens for subsequent molecular and morphological study' Zoologica Scripta 28, (1-2) 261-267 , DOI
Quicke DLJ, Lopez-Vaamonde C & Belshaw R 1999 'The basal Ichneumonidae (Insecta, Hymenoptera): 28S D2 rDNA considerations of the Brachycyrtinae, Labeninae, Paxylommatinae and Xoridinae' Zoologica Scripta 28, (1-2) 203-210 , DOI
BELSHAW R, FITTON M, HERNIOU E, GIMENO C & QUICKE DLJ 1998 'A phylogenetic reconstruction of the Ichneumonoidea (Hymenoptera) based on the D2 variable region of 28S ribosomal RNA' Systematic Entomology 23, (2) 109-123 , DOI
Gimeno C, Belshaw R & Quicke DL 1997 'Phylogenetic relationships of the Alyslinae/Opiinae (Hymenoptera:Braconidae) and the utility of cytochrome b, 16S and 28S D2 rRNA' Insect Mol Biol 6, (3) 273-284 Author Site
Belshaw R & Quicke DL 1997 'A molecular phylogeny of the Aphidiinae (Hymenoptera: Braconidae)' Mol Phylogenet Evol 7, (3) 281-293 Author Site , DOI
Belshaw R & Bolton B 1994 'A new myrmicine ant genus from cocoa leaf litter in Ghana (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)' Journal of Natural History 28, (3) 631-634 , DOI
Belshaw R & Bolton B 1993 'The effect of forest disturbance on the leaf litter ant fauna in Ghana' Biodiversity and Conservation 2, (6) 656-666 , DOI
BOLTON B & BELSHAW R 1993 'Taxonomy and biology of the supposedly lestobiotic ant genus Paedalgus (Hym.: Formicidae)' Systematic Entomology 18, (3) 181-189 , DOI
EGGLETON P & BELSHAW R 1993 'Comparisons of dipteran, hymenopteran and coleopteran parasitoids: provisional phylogenetic explanations' Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 48, (3) 213-226 , DOI
Eggleton P & Belshaw R 1992 'Insect Parasitoids: An Evolutionary Overview' Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 337, (1279) 1-20 , DOI
Marchi E, Kanapin A, Byott M, Magiorkinis G & Belshaw R 2013 'Neanderthal and Denisovan retroviruses in modern humans' Curr Biol 23, (22) R994-R995 Author Site , DOI