Ashleigh Griffin

Ashleigh Griffin

Tutor in Biological Sciences; Professor of Evolutionary Biology
Biological Sciences
BSc PhD Edin


I am a biologist because I’ve never lost my childlike curiosity about the natural world. I specialise in evolutionary biologist with a special interest in adaptation, which means I spend time mainly thinking about why living things are the way they are, rather than how they work.
1990-94 BSc Zoology (Edinburgh)
1995-98 PhD project on social behaviour of Meerkats in the Kalahari desert
2003-2017 Royal Society Research Fellowships
2014 Appointed Tutorial fellow in Biological Sciences/Professor of Evolutionary Biology, Department of Zoology
Since my PhD, I have taken four years career break to care for my two children, and I worked part-time for an additional five years. Even though my children are grown up now, there is always a lot going on in my life apart from being an academic!

Research Interests

I am interested in the evolution of cooperative behaviour because it poses a special problem for evolutionary theory - how can selection favour a behaviour that reduces reproductive success? The question is important, not just so we can gain an insight into striking examples such as colonies of social insects or meerkat groups, but because it is fundamental to understanding life as we know it: the evolution of the genome, the eukaryotic cell and multicellular organisms.
My current projects fall into three main categories:
  • Bacteria are social. How do they cooperate to make us sick? Can we use evolution to design new ways of combatting bacterial infections? I run a microbiology lab in which we are answering these questions experimentally and computationally. 
  • It can be a good idea to cooperate but how do we explain why some species are more cooperative than others? I analyse the patterns of behaviour across species of birds to understand diversity in social behaviours.
  • What stops cooperation between our cells from breaking down? My lab is working to understand more about the ways in which cells cooperate to produce functioning multicellular organisms using the weird and wonderful planarian flatworm system.
For more information visit Griffin Lab

Selected Major Publications:

  • Downing PA, AS Griffin*, CK Cornwallis* (2020) Group formation and the evolutionary pathway to complex sociality in birds. Nature Ecology & Evolution 4, 479-486.
  • Cornwallis CK, A Botero, DR Rubenstein, PA Downing, SA West, AS Griffin (2017) Cooperation facilitates the colonisation of harsh environments. Nature Ecology & Evolution 1, 0057.
  • Andersen, S, RL Marvig, S Molin, H Krogh Johansen, AS Griffin (2015) Long-term social dynamics drive loss of function in pathogenic bacteria. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112, 10756.
  • Cornwallis, CK, SA West, K Davis, AS Griffin (2010) Promiscuity and the evolutionary transition to complex societies. Nature 466, 969-972.
  • Griffin, AS, SA West, A Buckling (2004) Cooperation and competition in pathogenic bacteria. Nature 430, 1024-1027.
  • Griffin, AS, SA West (2003) Kin discrimination and the benefit of helping in cooperatively breeding vertebrates. Science 302, 634-636.

Useful Links

Explore further

Discover more about New College