Ian Mackay


  • West Mains Road, Kings Buildings, Peter Wilson Building

    EH9 3JG Edinburgh

    United Kingdom

Accepting PhD Students

1993 …2021

Research activity per year

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Personal profile

Research interests

Studies application of quantitative genetics and statistics to improve the efficiency of plant breeding. This has covered a wide range of research fields including field trial design, recurrent selection methods, novel and improved approaches to trait mapping, and genomic selection.

Has been instrumental in the adoption of the multiparent advanced generation intercross (MAGIC) for genetics and breeding research, having first coined the phrase and advocated the approach in 2007. 


Excellence in Breeding: consultancy 2019-
CIMMYT: consultancy 2018
APRIL group: consultancy 2018 - date
EMR: consultancy 2018 - 2019
SRUC: consultancy 2018 - 2019
University of Reading 2018 - 2019
The Roslin Institute: consultancy 2018
NIAB: consultancy 2017 - date
Malaysian Palm Oil Board: Programme Advisory Committee 2017 - 2019
Limagrain: advice on seed contamination probabilities in dispute with customer 2017
INIAV, Portugal: establishing genomic selection in national wheat breeding 2016 - date
Zoragen Biotechnologies LLP: prenatal screening in humans 2012-2013
IBERS: review of breeding programmes 2009
BSPB: analysis and interpretation of certified seed uptake for UK cereals. 2006


GplusE BB/L022141/1 BBSRC IPA 14/01/2015 3 years
Innovoat BB/M000893/1 BBSRC LINK 01/09/2014 5 years
IMPROMALT BB/K0070251/1 BBSRC LINK 01/01/2013 5 years
MIDRIB TS/I002170/1 TSB 01/10/2010 5 years
TriticeaeGenome EU FP7 01/01/2008 4 years
MAGIC BB/E007201/1 BBSRC CSI 01/01/2007 5 years

N use in wheat BBSRC BBSRC Newton 01/01/2016 3 years
Effectors B/N00518X/1 ERA-CAS 01/09/2015 3 years
MAGIC CARPET BB/M011666/1 BBSRC BBR 01/09/2015 4 years
MAGIC LINK BB/M008908/1 BBSRC LINK 12/01/2015 3 years
Durable rust resist. BB/K021435/1 EMBRAPA 06/05/2013 3 years
WISH BB/K020269/1 BBSRC follow on 06/05/2013 1.5 years
Pre-breeding wheat BB/K021435/1 BBSRC IPA 06/05/2013 3 years
wild rice MAGIC BB/J011754/1 SCPRID 01/01/2012 5 years
WAGTAIL BB/J002542/1 BBSRC LINK 01/08/2011 3.5 years
Wheat roots BB/H014381/ BBSRC LINK 01/11/2009 4 years


NIAB: Course originator,  organizer, senior lecturer and tutor for annual two week postgraduate course: “Quantitative Methods in Plant Breeding”, 2008-20219.
UK, France, Australia, India, South Africa, Malaysia: Week long courses in Quantitative Genetics in Plant Breeding, 2009-present.
UK: Two day courses on statistical and quantitative genetic components of plant breeding, 2009-present.
Workshop on genomic selection and molecular breeding, Croatia, 2018.

Kirkhouse Trust (Kenya): Training Workshop for Plant Breeding Student, 2018.

IAMZ –CIHEAM (Spain): MSc in plant breeding, population genetics module, 2018.

IAMZ –CIHEAM (Spain): MSc in plant breeding, marker assisted and genomic selection module, 2017.

IAMZ –CIHEAM (Spain): Genomic prediction and selection in plant breeding, 2016.


July 2019- Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), Edinburgh, UK.
Senior Reader in Plant Breeding

• Establishment of research programmes in genetics and plant breeding.
• Teaching, lecturing and mentoring in quantitative genetics and plant breeding.


December 2017- IMplant Consultancy Ltd., Chelmsford Essex, UK

• Teaching, lecturing and mentoring in quantitative genetics and plant breeding.
• Scientific writing.
• Data analysis.
• Independent research.

April 2005-Nov 2017 NIAB Ltd., Cambridge UK
Quantitative Geneticist

• Introduction of GWAS methods into NIAB.
• Development of MAGIC in winter wheat.
• Introduction of genomic selection and prediction methods into NIAB.
• Development of novel breeding approaches and strategies.
• Development of training in quantitative methods for plant breeders. Two week course “Quantitative Methods in Plant Breeding” delivered annually from 2008.
• Teaching occasional commissioned courses in the UK and overseas.
• General support in statistics and quantitative genetic analysis to NIAB.
• PhD supervision.
• Group leader: Trait Genetics.


1999-April 2005 Oxagen Ltd., Abingdon, Oxon.
Head of Quantitative Genetics

• Implemented in-house linkage and association analysis at Oxagen.
• Recruited, trained and managed the Quantitative Genetics team.
• Responsible for all aspects of statistical analysis and interpretation of all linkage, association and gene expression data.
• Involved in strategic shift to focusing on drug targets as disease genes.
• Evaluated and developed novel methods of design and analysis.
• Key member of interdisciplinary teams designing and assessing biopharmaceutical projects in target discovery.
• Key member of interdisciplinary teams to develop prognostics and diagnostics.
• Responsibility for quality control of genotype and phenotype data.


1990-1999 Lion Seeds Ltd., Maldon, Essex.
Research Director

• Founder and 20% shareholder following management buy-out in 1990.
• Planned and executed breeding programmes in a range of crops.
• Day to day management of the breeding station.
• Technical market support in European and American markets.
• Joint responsibility for strategic decisions on the future of the company.

1998-1999 University of Reading, Berkshire
Royal Society Industry Fellowship

• Developed a novel and efficient method of recurrent selection.
• Studied effect of errors of measurement on response to selection.
• Implemented a method to account for inbreeding and linkage disequilibrium in predicting response to recurrent selection.
• Compared efficiencies of QTL detection in different experimental populations when using dominant markers.
• Derived components of variance and covariance for complex breeding schemes.

1980-1990 Nickerson Sugar Beet Seed Ltd., Maldon, Essex.
Plant Breeder

• Responsible for analysis of data from all variety trials.
• Introduced and developed novel methods for design and analysis of variety trials.
• Designed and coded all software.
• Managed and automated analytical laboratories.
• Consulted to the rest of the Nickerson group on statistics and quantitative genetics.


Personal profile

My principal research interest is in the application of quantitative genetics and statistics to improve the efficiency of plant breeding. This has allowed me to contribute in a wide range of research fields covering field trial design, recurrent selection methods, novel and improved approaches to trait mapping, and genomic selection. I am passionate about the value of these techniques because I can apply them to improve rates of genetic progress. There is a skills gap in quantitative genetics and to address this I have developed and teach intensive courses, most notably the two week intensive course, Quantitative Methods in Plant Breeding; delivered 11 times at NIAB. I have also taught in various forms elsewhere in the UK and overseas.

I worked at NIAB for 12 years. Prior to this, I ran the Statistical Genetics section of Oxagen Ltd; carrying out linkage and association analyses of complex diseases in humans. Before this I was the research director of the commercial plant breeding company Lion Seeds Ltd., founded in a management buyout. At NIAB I developed multi-parent advanced generation inter-cross (MAGIC) populations in wheat and successfully advocated their use and development in several other crops. I was involved in association mapping projects in wheat and barley, using historical data from UK National & Recommended List trials. I also used these datasets to partition improvements in yield seen over the last 60 years into components attributable to breeding and to other factors.

In December 2017 I left NIAB to work as an independent consultant in quantitative genetics and breeding. I am collaborating with the public and private sectors in teaching and in the implementation of contemporary methods in plant breeding.

In July 2019 I took a part time position for two days a week at SRUC while continuing my independent consultancy activities. This was extended to two and a half days in 2021.

Other work

Professional activities

BSPB representative on UK Recommended List panels for wheat and sugar beet 2013 - date
Advisory board MSc in Plant Genetics and Crop Improvement, John Innes Centre 2009 - date
Editorial Board of Theoretical and Applied Genetics 2009 - date
Referee for PloS Biol, Heredity, BMC Genetics, Genetics, and others 1994 - date
Occasional referee for applications for research grants submitted to UK. 1990 - date
Reviewer for BBSRC, DEFRA, ANR, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation 1990 - date
Science & Impact Advisory Board for IBERS 2008- 2015
Scientific Advisory Board, British Beet Research Organisation. 2002- 2003
Represented BSPB and BSBSPB 1990-1999
Editorial Board of Heredity.

Education/Academic qualification

PhD, University of Birmingham

1 Oct 197730 Sep 1980

Award Date: 19 Sep 2027

External positions

IMplant Consultancy Ltd.

1 Jan 2018 → …


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