About the University of Leicester

Professor Yuri Dubrova

It was with great sadness that we have learned of the death of our colleague and friend Professor Yuri Dubrova who passed away on 26 January 2023.

Yuri first came to the University’s Department of Genetics in 1991 as a Royal Society visiting research fellow in the laboratory of Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys. He joined us fully as a Wellcome Trust fellow in 1994, and in 1999 was appointed as lecturer, and later Professor of Genetics.

Yuri was born in Kyiv, Ukraine in 1955 and undertook his early education and a degree in Biology there. He then moved to Moscow and studied for his PhD at the NI Vavilov Institute of General Genetics, after which he carried out research into population genetics. His Leicester Wellcome Trust fellowship examined the genetic effects of exposure to ionising radiation and chemical mutagens in mammals, and this area of research then became his focus and gained him a well-deserved international reputation.

Visiting the Jeffreys laboratory gave Yuri access to the minisatellite technology that was the basis of the DNA fingerprinting method. The hypervariability displayed by minisatellites is due to an inherently high mutation rate; Yuri demonstrated that this also provided an exquisitely sensitive tool to detect elevated mutation rates in particular sets of humans who had been exposed to mutagens. A key Nature paper from 1996 revealed that children born after their parents were exposed to radiation following the Chernobyl disaster showed a two-fold elevated mutation rate compared to unexposed children. Subsequently, Yuri applied similar methods to mice as experimental models of mammalian genetics, demonstrating the mutagenic effects of radiation and chemical mutagens (including anti-cancer drugs) and the surprising fact that elevated mutation rates could be inherited by the unexposed grandchildren of exposed individuals – the transgenerational effect of mutagens.

Yuri trained many post-docs and PhD students and contributed greatly to undergraduate teaching throughout his career. He will be missed not only for his science, but for his uniquely dark sense of humour, and his wholehearted engagement in cinema, theatre, art and literature, manifested as pithy endorsements or expletive-laden condemnations delivered with vigour from an office doorway, or in a corridor.

Chris Talbot, of the Department of Genetics & Genome Biology, and chair of the Association for Radiation Research, said: “Yuri was a long-time and active member of the Association for Radiation Research, always attending the annual meetings and enthusiastically joining in the revelries. Everyone in the ARR will miss his lively intellect and passion for the field.”

G Don Jones, Professor Emeritus, and past President of the ARR, the European Radiation Research Society and the US Radiation Research Society said: “Yuri was truly a larger-than-life character, whose science was both important and unique. Vibrant, refreshingly outspoken, occasionally stubborn, but with a wonderful personality, all of which made him great fun to be around. It was a privilege to work with him, a pleasure to know him, and he will be greatly missed by the radiation research community world-wide.” 

Alec Jeffreys, Professor Emeritus, said: “Yuri brought an entirely new dimension of research to Leicester that he successfully developed into a complete new field, allowing him to establish his own independent group, but he always remained a great colleague and friend, kind, humorous, helpful, sometimes demanding, always insightful. He will be greatly missed.”

Jacqui Shaw, Head of the Department of Genetics & Genome Biology said: “It was a pleasure to work with Yuri over recent years.  I will always remember his larger-than-life personality, sense of fun and incredibly generous and kind spirit. My heart goes out to his family at this very sad time”. 

Yuri is survived by his wife Galina, daughters Olga and Maria, and his mother Lyudmila, who still lives in Kyiv.

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