Meet our researchers - Andrea Doeschl-Wilson


Professor Andrea Doeschl Wilson is a research group leader at the Roslin Institute in Scotland. Andrea and her team’s research investigates how the genetics of farm animals affects infectious disease spread.This is essential to help farmers and breeders identify animals that are at higher risk. 

Q: Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Andrea Doeschl-Wilson. I have a PhD in applied maths, but have become an animal scientist when starting to work for the pig breeding company PIC in 2002. I’m currently leading a research group in farm animal disease genetics and mathematical modelling at the Roslin Institute of the University of Edinburgh. I also lead the Roslin Institute’s strategic research programmes on the prevention and control of infectious diseases.

Q: What are you currently working on and what does it involve?

Most of the research in my group focuses on infectious diseases in farm animals. We are particularly interested in reducing their spread and negative impact on animal health and welfare through selective breeding or vaccination. We use mathematical models to help us identify animals that are genetically more resistant to disease and to predict how effective different control strategies are. We also use similar methods and models to better understand factors driving aggressive behaviour in pigs, and how to reduce it.

Q: What led you to work on this project?

New automatic video tools offer an exciting new opportunity to monitor how animals interact in time and space. We believe that these data will give us exciting new insights how aggressive behaviour and other harmful interactions in pigs are initiated and spread within a pen.

Q: What fueled your passion to study the topic?

The thought that there is a lot of useful information in these monitoring data to help us identify which animals contribute most to pen level aggression and disease spread, and how much of this is influenced by the animals’ genes. It’s like detective work though – we know the evidence is there, but we need to find it in the forest of data.

Q: What is your favourite aspect of the project?

The amazing multi-disciplinary research team. Each partner brings a different expertise to the project, from data analyses, pig breeding, pig behavioural science and artificial intelligence. We learn a lot from interpreting the results together. The team is definitely better than the sum of parts.

Q: Why is this project important?

Harmful social interactions and infectious diseases are one of the biggest welfare problems. Any project that helps reduce these and prevent pain or loss of animals is worthwhile.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about your job as a researcher?

Being a researcher means continued learning and discovery.  It never gets boring, in particular in the current era where new technologies constantly provide new types of data. These help us discover new aspects, such as for example how animals interact, and to what degree these interactions are influenced by the genetic make-up of animals and other factors. We can use these new insights to breed or manage animals to improve their health and welfare.

Q: What would you like to achieve with your research project?

A systematic roadmap for how we can use new technologies such as automated monitoring systems and genomics to improve animal health and welfare.

Q: What advice would you give to someone looking for a similar career?

Be prepared to embark on a journey where you always learn something new. The more expertise you gain in an area, the more you realize how little you know and how much more there is to discover.