Robert Belshaw


Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (UK university teaching qualification)

Ph.D. in Biology, Imperial College London, UK

M.Sc. in Bioarchaeology, Institute of Archaeology, London

M.Sc. in Zoology, University of Manchester, UK

B.Sc. in Zoology, University of Manchester, UK

Courses teaching in WKU

General Biology

Biology and Society

Special Topics in Biology – Cancer Genomics

Scientific Writing and Presentation

Ethics in Biotechnology


Dr Belshaw began his career as an entomologist at the Natural History Museum in London. At Imperial College London, he was one of the first researchers to use DNA sequencing for building phylogenetic trees in order to reconstruct and understand past evolutionary changes. Following the publication of the human genome sequence in 2001, he taught himself computer programming to work on human endogenous retroviruses. These viruses proliferate by integration into their host’s germline and make up 5% of the 3 billion nucleotide-long human genome sequence. He continued this work at the University of Oxford, where he also taught infectious disease biology and tutored students at Worcester and Brasenose Colleges. More recently, he has taught genomics and bioinformatics at the University of Plymouth, and has just published a novel web-based method of teaching targeted cancer therapy to biomedical and medical students.

Research interests

Dr Belshaw’s work on endogenous retroviruses began with computer analyses to determine the factors that control their proliferation within host genomes, and whether they continue to replicate in the modern human population. With advances in molecular biology allowing us to determine causal links in complex disease, he is now collaborating with laboratory experimentalists on the possible role of these viruses in our immune system and in cancer. His aim is to exploit the observation that viral protein expression is up-regulated in many cancers and develop a broad-spectrum anticancer immunotherapy.

Grants and Awards

1.2020 Project Lead, Wenzhou-Kean University, Internal Research Support Program: ‘Does the pangolin have infectious endogenous retroviruses?’ RMB 96,000.
2.2018 Project Lead, University of Plymouth Medical School education award: ‘OncoWiki: an interactive approach to teaching cancer genomics’. £5000
2.2017 Participant, EU Horizon 2020 project: ‘Integrated platform for brain cancer diagnostic techniques (AiPBAND)’. €3,700,000
3.2016 Co-Investigator, charity Action Medical Research grant: ‘The role of endogenous retroviral proteins in the development of Merlin-deficient tumours and their as potential as drug and immunotherapy targets’. £65,000
4.2016 Project Lead, University of Plymouth PedRIO (Pedagogic Research and Teaching Innovation Fund) award: ‘From OncoSim to OncoWiki: evaluating OncoSim’s educational effectiveness’. £8,500
5.2014 Co-Investigator, charity Action on Hearing Loss grant: ‘Endogenous Retroviral proteins as potential immunotherapy and/or drug targets for Merlin-deficient tumours treatment and their role in vestibular neuroma development’. £5,000
6.2009 Principal Investigator, Wellcome Trust project grant: ‘The evolution and present day activity of Endogenous Retroviruses’. £383,000

Selected Publications

  1. Marchi E, Jones M, Klenerman P, Frater J, Magiorkinis G & Belshaw R (in press). BreakAlign: a Perl program to align chimaeric (split) genomic NGS reads and allow visual confirmation of novel retroviral integrations. BMC Bioinform
  2. Maze EA, Agit B, Reeves S, Hilton DA, Parkinson DB, Laraba L, Ercolano E, Kurian KM, Hanemann CO, Belshaw R* & Ammoun S (2022) Human endogenous retrovirus type K promotes proliferation and confers sensitivity to anti-retroviral drugs in Merlin-negative schwannoma and meningioma. Cancer Res 82: 235-247 *Co-senior author
  3. Tatkiewicz W, Dickie J, Bedford F, Jones A, Atkin M, Kiernan M, Maze EA, Agit B, Farnham G, Kanapin A & Belshaw R (2020). Characterising a human endogenous retrovirus (HERV)-derived tumour-associated antigen: enriched RNA-Seq analysis of HERV-K(HML-2) in mantle cell lymphoma cell lines. Mob DNA. 11: 9.
  4. Schoenborn P, Osborne R, Toms N, Johnstone K, Milsom C, Muneer R, Jarvis MA & Belshaw R (2019) OncoSim and OncoWiki: an authentic learning approach to teaching cancer genomics. BMC Med Educ 19: 407.
  5. Maze EA, Ham C, Kelly J, Ussher L, Almond N, Towers GJ, Berry N & Belshaw R (2019) Variable baseline Papio cynocephalus Endogenous Retrovirus (PcEV) expression is upregulated in acutely SIV-infected macaques and correlated to STAT1 expression in the spleen. Front Immunol 10: 901.
  6. Marchi E, Kanapin A, Magiorkinis G & Belshaw R (2014) Unfixed endogenous retroviral insertions in the human population. J Virol 88: 9529-37.
  7. Katzourakis A, Magiorkinis G, Limb AG, Gupta S, Belshaw R & Gifford R (2014) Larger mammalian body size selects for lower retroviral activity. PLoS Pathog 10: e1004214.
  8. Magiorkinis G, Gifford RJ, Katzourakis A, De Ranter J & Belshaw R (2012) Env-less endogenous retroviruses are genomic superspreaders. PNAS 109: 7385-90.
  9. Sanjuán R, Nebot MR, Chirico N, Mansky LM & Belshaw R (2010) Viral mutation rates. J Virol 84: 9733-48.
  10. Chirico N, Vianelli A & Belshaw R (2010) Why genes overlap in viruses. Proc Biol Sci 277: 3809-17.
  11. Belshaw R, Pybus OG & Rambaut A (2007) The evolution of genome compression and genomic novelty in RNA viruses. Genome Res 17: 1496-504.
  12. Belshaw R, Pereira V, Katzourakis A, Talbot G, Paces J, Burt A & Tristem M (2004) Long-term re-infection of the human genome by endogenous retroviruses. PNAS 101: 4894-9.
  13. Belshaw R, Dowton M, Quicke DLJ & Austin AD (2000) Estimating ancestral geographic distributions: a Gondwanan origin for aphid parasitoids? Proc Biol Sci 267: 491-496.
  14. Belshaw R, Quicke, DLJ, Völkl, W. & Godfray HCJ (1999) Molecular markers indicate rare sex in a predominantly asexual parasitoid wasp. Evolution 53: 1189-99.
  15. Belshaw R & Quicke DLJ (1997) A molecular phylogeny of the Aphidiinae (Hymenoptera: Braconidae). Mol Phylogenet Evol 7: 281-93.
  16. Belshaw R (1993) Tachinid flies (Diptera: Tachinidae). Royal Entomological Society of London. 169pp.
  17. Belshaw R & Bolton B (1993) The effect of forest disturbance on the leaf litter ant community in Ghana. Biodivers Conserv 2: 656-66.
  18. Eggleton P & Belshaw R (1992) Insect parasitoids: an evolutionary overview. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 337: 1-20.