Dr Celia May


School/Department: Genetics and Genome Biology, Department of

Telephone: +44 (0)116 252 3032



In my doctoral work at Nottingham I exploited hypervariable minisatellites to gain insight into reproductive strategies & genetic diversity among birds of prey. These studies identified the first polymorphic avian sex-specific markers as well as an extremely mutable locus with a pronounced sex bias in mutation rate. This raised my interest in understanding the processes that generate variation & was the impetus for joining Sir Alec Jeffreys' world-renowned lab in Leicester.

At UoL I turned my attention to humans and the application of single-molecule approaches to quantify de novo mutation events in sperm & somatic DNA. The latter including environmental monitoring of cell-lines exposed to a variety of model mutagens addressed issues of dose-response & timing of minisatellite mutation induction following radiotherapy and helped establish differences in mutational profile of the soma & germline. Most of my germline work has been concerned with meiotic crossover hotspots and non-crossover events in the human X/Y pseudoautosomal regions and observing the effect of allelic variation at the master regulator of hotspot activation PRDM9 at the level of individual men & haplotypes.


Human meiotic recombination: We have significantly contributed to the understanding of PRDM9 variability & activation of meiotic recombination hotspots transmission distortion & meiotic drive that leads to the eventual demise of hotspots. We continue to explore the dynamics of the pseudoautosomal regions in the male germline in particular & have helped establish the recombination behaviour & evolutionary history of the recently discovered ePAR on the human Y chromosome.

Dynamics of mitochondrial & nuclear DNA: With a ZZ/ZW sex chromosome system birds provide a useful testbed to explore the mutational dynamics of the nuclear vs. mitochondrial environment whilst controlling for population effects.

Combatting wildlife crime: With Dr Jon Wetton we are exploring the use of 3rd generation sequencing platforms for fast forensically-robust species ID tests that could be deployed at customs posts to halt lucrative wildlife trafficking. Birds of prey were the earliest wildlife beneficiaries of DNA testing in the UK. With Jon who pioneered this work we are developing new generation tests with the potential to resolve complex cases involving trace mixed & degraded samples.



Beasley, J., Shorrock, G., Neumann, R., May, C.A. & Wetton, J.H. (2021) Massively parallel sequencing & capillary electrophoresis of a novel panel of falcon STRs: concordance with minisatellite DNA profiles from historical wildlife crime. Forensic Science International: Genetics, p.102550.

Ongaro L, May CA et al. (2019) The genomic impact of european colonization of the Americas. Current Biology 29(23), pp.3974-3986 DOI:

Poriswanish N, & May CA (2018) Recombination hotspots in an extended human pseudoautosomal domain predicted from double-strand break maps & characterized by sperm-based crossover analysis. PLOS Genetics.14 (10):e1007680.

Odenthal-Hesse L, & May CA (2014). Transmission distortion affecting human noncrossover but not crossover recombination: a hidden source of meiotic drive. PLOS Genetics. DOI:10.1371/journal.pgen.1004106

Sarbajna S, & May CA (2012). A major recombination hotspot in the XqYq pseudoautosomal region gives new insight into processing of human gene conversion events. Hum Mol Genet, 21(9), 2029-2038. DOI:10.1093/hmg/dds019

Berg IL, May CA, et al. (2010). PRDM9 variation strongly influences recombination hot-spot activity & meiotic instability in humans.. Nat Genet, 42(10), 859-863. 

Jeffreys AJ & May CA (2004) Intense & highly localised gene conversion activity in human meiotic crossover hot spots. Nature Genetics 36(2),151-156. DOI:10.1038/ng1287

Jeffreys AJ & May CA (2003) DNA enrichment by allele-specific hybridization (DEASH): a novel method for haplotyping & for detecting low frequency base-substitutional variants and recombinant DNA molecules. Genome Research 13, 2316-2324. DOI:10.1101/gr.1214603

May CA, et al. (2002) Crossover clustering & rapid decay of linkage disequilibrium in the Xp/Yp pseudoautosomal gene SHOX. Nature Genetics 31,272-275. DOI:10.1038/ng918

May CA, et al. (2000) Human minisatellite sperm mutation frequency following radiotherapy. Mutation Research 453: 67-75. DOI: 10.1016/s027-5707(00)00085-3

May CA, et al. (1996) Mutation rate heterogeneity & the generation of allele diversity at the human minisatellite locus MS205 (D16S309). Human Molecular Genetics 5: 1823-1833.

Armour JAL, Anttinen T, May CA, et al. (1996) Minisatellite diversity supports a recent African origin for modern humans. Nature Genetics 13:154-160. DOI:10.1038/ng0696-154

Korpimäki E, Lahti K, May CA, et al. (1996) Copulatory behaviour & paternity determined by single-locus profiling in kestrels: effects of cyclic food abundance. Animal Behaviour.51:945-955. DOI:10.1006/anbe.1996.0098

Zeh DW, Zeh JA & May CA (1994) Charomid cloning vectors meet the pedipalpal chelae: single-locus minisatellite probes for paternity assignment in the harlequin beetle-riding pseudoscorpion. Molecular Ecology 3: 517-522. 

May CA, Wetton JH & Parkin DT (1993) Polymorphic sex-specific sequences in birds of prey. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, series B 253: 271 - 276. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.1993.0113

Zeh DW, May CA, et al.  (1993) Mbo I and Macrohaltica - quality of DNA fingerprints is strongly enzyme-dependent in an insect (Coleoptera). Molecular Ecology 2: 61-63.

May CA, Wetton JH, et al. (1993) Single-locus profiling reveals loss of variation in inbred populations of the Red Kite (Milvus milvus). Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, series B 251:165 - 170. 

May CA & Wetton JH (1991) DNA fingerprinting by specific priming of concatenated oligonucleotides. Nucleic Acids Research 19: 4557. 



I am interested in understanding fundamental processes that generate DNA diversity and which may contribute to disease and drive evolution. I also have a keen interest in developing new forensic genetic tests to help combat wildlife trafficking.

I am able to offer supervision of PhD students working in these broad areas:

Human meiotic recombination processes & genome diversity

Genome dynamics of mitochondrial DNA and nuclear insertions

Forensic genetics solutions to combat wildlife crime


I have contributed undergraduate teaching from Yrs 1-3 and currently convene the Yr 2 module Genomes and Yr 3 module Human Genetics. I teach on the MSc Molecular Genetics course.

Press and media

DNA fingerprinting cold case reviews bird of prey wildlife forensics human recombination hotspots


October 2019 Commendation from Deputy Chief Constable Haward East Midlands Special Operations Unit (EMSOU)

November 2019 Chief Constable’s Commendation Nottinghamshire Police

Both awarded for contribution to the forensic analysis resulting in successful conviction of Benjamin Whitehead for rape and aggravated burglary 30 years after the offences were committed. 

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