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Department of Zoology



Eske Willerslev holds the Prince Philip Chair in Ecology and Evolution in the Department of Zoology. He is also a Lundbeck Foundation Professor at University of Copenhagen, Denmark and is the director for Centre of Excellence in GeoGenetics. Additionally, Willerslev is a research associate the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. Willerslev is an evolutionary geneticist. He is particularly known for sequencing the first ancient human genome, for conducting human population genomic studies across the world, and for establishing the field of environmental DNA, where modern and ancient DNA from higher plants and animals are obtained directly from environmental samples.

Willerslev was born in Denmark in 1971. After spending his youth as an explorer and fur trapper in Siberia, he established the first ancient DNA laboratory in Denmark and obtained his DSc at University of Copenhagen in 2004. At the age of 33, Willerslev became Full Professor at University of Copenhagen - the youngest in Denmark at the time. Willerslev has been visiting researcher at the MD Anderson Cancer Research Centre in Austin, Texas and independent Welcome Trust Fellow at Oxford. He is foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences, member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, honorary doctor at University of Oslo and has been a Visiting Professor at Oxford University and a Miller Visiting Professor at UC Berkeley. 


Willerslev started out as a microbiologist, then moved into the field of invertebrate systematics, and later into plant and mammal ecology. Over the past six years Willerslev has focused his research in understanding processes forming contemporary human disease load, and human genetic diversity and distribution. He has more than 200-peer-reviewed papers (first publication 1999), of which more than 40 are published in the journals Nature and Science. He has been heading several largescale multidisciplinary international research projects and has communicated his scientific work to the public through multiple films, popular books.

 Among his scientific achievements are:

  • - Establishing the field of ‘Ice Core Genetics’ - today a widely recognized and active research field (PNAS, 1999).
  • - Establishing the field of ‘Environmental DNA’. Today widely recognized field (Science, 2003).
  • - Heading team proposing new theory for the origins of insects (Science, 2006).
  • - Heading team showing forested Greenland 400 thousand years ago from environmental DNA (Science, 2007).
  • - Heading team sequencing the first ancient human mitochondrial genome (Science, 2008).
  • - Heading team finding oldest evidence of human presence in North America through DNA studies on ancient feaces – more than 14 thousand years ago (Science, 2008).
  • - Heading team sequencing the first ancient human nuclear genome (Nature, 2010).
  • - Heading team sequencing first Aboriginal Australian genome (Science, 2011).
  • - Heading team conducting first large-scale study on Ice Age megafauna (Nature, 2011).
  • - Heading team finding evidence of trees in glaciated Scandinavia (Science, 2012).
  • - Heading team sequencing the oldest genome to date from a c. 700-thousand-year old horse (Nature, 2013).
  • - Heading team discovering a dual origin for Native Americans (Nature, 2014).
  • - Heading team conducting first large-scale environmental DNA study (Nature, 2014).
  • - Heading team sequencing the ancient American human genome (Clovis) (Nature, 2014).
  • - Heading team establishing ancient genetic structure in Europe (Science, 2014).
  • - Heading team conducing the first large-scale population genomic study of the New World Arctic (Science, 2014).
  • - Heading team conducting the first true ancient population genomic study (not genomewide capture) (Nature, 2015).
  • - Heading team sequencing the genome of Kennewick Man (Nature, 2015).
  • - Heading team conducting the first large-scale genome study on peopling of the Americas (Science, 2015).
  • - Heading team finding the oldest direct evidence of plaque and showing its evolutionary development through time (Cell, 2015).
  • - Heading team conducting the first metagenomics study on ancient sediments (Nature, 2016).
  • - Heading first population genomic study of Aboriginal Australians (Nature, 2016).
Prince Philip Professor of Ecology & Evolution, Department of Zoology
Director/ Professor, Centre of Excellence in GeoGenetics, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Associated researcher, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, UK.

Contact Details

Room 1.04 David Attenborough Building
01223 (3)36668
Accepting applications for PhD students.