Dr Helen McRobie

Course Leader

Senior Lecturer

Faculty:Faculty of Science and Engineering

School:Life Sciences

Location: Cambridge

Research Supervision:Yes

Helen is the Course Leader for our BSc Biomedical Science and also leads our Principles of Genetics module. Her research into melanism in squirrels and foxes has gained national attention.

Helen has tracked the spread of the black squirrel across the UK via the Black Squirrel Project website.


Helen’s research focuses on the pharmacological characterisation and pleiotropy of the MC1R gene. Her work on the genetic basis of melanism in grey, fox, red and palm squirrels was the basis of the Black Squirrel Project. With the help of the public, Helen has been able to track the spread of the black squirrel across the UK. Her research has drawn national attention and Helen has appeared in the media on numerous occasions, most notably on the BBC’s The One Show, Countryfile and Breakfast.

Research interests

  • Pharmacological characterisation of the MC1R in the melanistic and wild-type grey squirrel
  • The genetic basis of melanism in the grey, fox, red and palm squirrels (the Black Squirrel Project)
  • Pleiotropy of the MC1R gene
  • Genetic diversity of the grey squirrel as an invasive species in Great Britain


BSc Biomedical Science

Selected recent publications

McRobie, H., King L., Symmons M., Fanutti C., and Coussons, P., 2014. Agouti Signalling Protein is an Inverse Agonist to the Wildtype and Agonist to the Melanic Variant of the Melanocortin- 1 Receptor in the Grey Squirrel (Sciurus Carolinensis). FEBS Letters, 588, pp.2335-2343. Doi: 10.1016/j.febslet.2014.05.032.

McRobie, H., King, L., Fanutti, C., Coussons, P., Moncrief, N., and Thomas, A., 2014. Melanocortin 1 Receptor (MC1R) Gene Sequence Variation and Melanism in the Grey (Sciurus Carolinensis), Fox (Sciurus Niger) and Red (Sciurus Vulgaris) Squirrel. Journal of Heredity, 105, pp.423-8. Doi: 10.1093/jhered/esu006.

McRobie, H., 2012. Black Squirrels: Genetics and Distribution. Quarterly Journal of Forestry, 106(2), pp.137-141.

McRobie, H., Thomas, A., Kelly, J., 2009. The Genetic Basis of Melanism in the Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). Journal of Heredity, 100(6), pp.709-714.

Recent presentations and conferences

McRobie, H., King, L., Symmons, M., Fanutti, C., and Coussons, P., 2013. An Eight Amino Acid Deletion in the Melanocortin-1 Receptor Leads to a Constitutively Active Receptor in the Grey Squirrel (Sciurus Carolinensis). Biochemical Society, York, UK.

McRobie, H., Fanutti, C., Symmons, M., and Coussons, P., 2012. A Model of the Deletion Mutant of Melanocortin 1 Receptor (MC1RD24) Derived from a Melanic Form of the Grey Squirrel (Sciurus Carolinensis). Biochemical Society<, Prato, Italy.

Media experience

Helen has appeared on BBC's The One Show, Countryfile and Breakfast to discuss her research work.