Adrian has held the Buchanan Chair of Genetics at the University of Edinburgh since 1990 and is a member of the Wellcome Centre for Cell Biology. He graduated in biochemistry from the University of Sussex in 1968 and obtained his PhD at Edinburgh University. He subsequently held research positions at the MRC Mammalian Genome Unit and the Institute for Molecular Pathology in Vienna. He was a governor of Wellcome from 2000-2010, a trustee of Cancer Research UK from 2010-2016 and is currently chair of the Scientific Advisory Boards of the Gurdon Institute (Cambridge) and the Francis Crick Institute. He received a knighthood in 2014.
Adrian's research focuses on the basic biology and biomedical significance of DNA methylation and other epigenetic processes. His laboratory identified CpG islands as gene markers in the vertebrate genome and discovered proteins that read the DNA methylation signal to influence gene activity. Mutations in one of these proteins, MeCP2, cause the severe neurological disorder Rett Syndrome. The Bird laboratory established a mouse model of Rett Syndrome and showed that the resulting severe neurological phenotype can be cured.
Adrian's awards include the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine, the Gairdner International Award, the Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine and the Brain Prize.