Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Mike Bruford obituary

My friend Mike Bruford, who has died aged 59 after a protracted illness, dedicated his career to unravelling the genetic consequences of biodiversity loss and was a professor of conservation genetics at Cardiff University.

Respected by governments and researchers worldwide, Mike was determined and driven, and communicated science in a compelling manner. When asked, after a talk in 2022: “Can we afford to make all these changes to protect biodiversity?” his response was simple: “We cannot afford not to.”

Born in Cardiff to Colin, an engineering draughtsman, and Anne (nee Lerego), who worked for a car dealership, Mike attended St Cyres school, in Penarth, south Wales, where his first encounters with nature came as a boy sneaking out to camp on Sully Island. He also began to support Cardiff City FC, following them through thick and thin for the rest of his life.

During studies for a degree in biomolecular science at Portsmouth Polytechnic (now the University of Portsmouth), he met a fellow student, Claire Lawes, whom he married in 1990.

Mike’s PhD, for which he studied at Leicester University for three years from 1986, examined the subject of hypervariable markers in the chicken genome, and coincided with the rapidly advancing field of genetic fingerprinting. In 1990 he joined the Zoological Society of London’s conservation genetics group as a research associate, becoming group leader in 1994. From there he developed his international career and nurtured a love of African wildlife.

Mike moved to Cardiff University as a reader in conservation genetics in 1999 and I became his first appointment. In 2001 he became a professor in the university’s new school of biosciences, from where he established the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Conservation Genetics Specialist Group, promoting the use of genetic data in the organisation’s policies.

He also worked on a range of conservation genetics projects with the Darwin Initiative, a UK government grants scheme that helps to protect biodiversity and the natural environment through locally based projects worldwide, and was instrumental in establishing FrozenArk, a “biobank” containing deep-frozen genetic material from endangered species. In 2019 he became Cardiff University’s first dean for environmental sustainability.

Over the years Mike received a number of awards, including the Zoological Society of London’s Scientific Medal (2003), the Royal Society’s Wolfson Research Merit award (2012-1016) and the Marsh award for Conservation Biology (2020). His research has been cited more than 30,000 times by others, and he was supervisor to more than 70 doctoral and postdoctoral researchers. He was a collegiate, inspirational mentor who was always warm and humorous.

He is survived by Claire, their children, Erin and Rhys, his parents and his sister, Wendy.

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