Dr William Schierding

PhD, Bioinformatics

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Senior Research Fellow


William came to New Zealand in 2012 after beginning his career in the United States, where he earned his Masters Degree in Genetic Epidemiology and then worked as a Programmer Analyst at the McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis. In New Zealand, William completed his PhD at the University of Auckland (Liggins Institute, under the leadership of Wayne Cutfield and Justin O’Sullivan), where he was focused on the functional consequences of the three-dimensional structure of genome organization. William is currently working as a Research Fellow at the Liggins Institute, studying the application of polygenic risk scores to advise obstetric management.

Research | Current

About the research:

William’s research focus is on the intersection of genetic and epigenetic research with modern “big data” approaches to answers. In this quest, William is actively seeking out answers in the analysis of high-throughput genetics (next generation sequencing) and the impact that common variations in genetic sequence have on the three-dimensional structure of the genome within the nucleus. This work has led to several successful collaborations within Australia, the UK, USA, and Finland.

Research Hypothesis:

Amongst 3 billion bases of DNA lurks some 10 million points of genetic variation, making us who we are as individuals. In some cases, those variants contribute to diseases. Around two-thirds of those disease-associated variants are in non-coding regions of the DNA, a major challenge to those hoping to attribute these variants to altered function. Ultimately, this makes it difficult for scientists to understand why this variation is hazardous to our health, leaving diagnosis tricky and remediation nearly impossible. Some of these non-coding genetic changes can alter structural relationships within the nucleus, altering regulatory patterns, resulting in disease risk in humans. Thus, the failure of GWAS to turn SNP associations into clinically-relevant (actionable) causes for disease has resulted from a genetic approach that tries to link the complex phenotype to only the local genetic landscape. My approach aims to describe how non-coding regions of the DNA alter 3D organization of DNA in the nucleus, resulting in altered function.

For example, applying structural genomics to the problem of post-term birth. Somewhere between 5-20% of all births are post-term (born after 293 days – 41 weeks – of gestation), an affliction that carries both short- and long-term health consequences for the child. I’ve identified a set of genetic variants that associate with longer time in the womb and related these changes to alterations in enhancer regions, altering the three-dimensional structure of the genome within the nucleus. From this, we identified several major pathways for possible pathogenesis, most notably haematopoiesis and platelet thrombosis. The next steps here are to tie these pathway changes directly to their influence on gestational timing, improving obstectric management of birth.

Teaching | Current

I have joined a bioinformatics group with the goals of developing of a universal nationwide New Zealand bioinformatics teaching toolset. My current teaching role has centered around developing, delivering, and promoting a consistent bioinformatics infrastructure for the New Zealand research community. I'm always looking for more opportunities to host bioinformatics workshops across New Zealand.

Postgraduate supervision

I am currently co-supervising four PhD students at the Liggins Institute (Sophie Farrow, Sreemol Gokuladhas, Andrew Dubovyi, Daniel Ho) on the role of genetics in predicting non-communicable diseases (neurological disorders, muscle growth and maintenance, paediatric asthma, and genetic predictors of diabetes).

Areas of expertise

William’s areas of expertise involve genome mapping, variant detection, RNA-sequencing, epigenetics, and analysing of environmental metagenomics data.

Keywords: analysis of deep sequence data, GWAS, variant detection, RNA sequencing, methylome, epigenetics, Hi-C, spatial genomics, metagenomics

Committees/Professional groups/Services

Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences Postdoctoral Society (2018-Present)

Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) (2016-Present)

University of Auckland Postgraduate Student Association (2012-2016) - Vice President 2015-16


Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • Schierding, W., Farrow, S., Fadason, T., Graham, O. E. E., Pitcher, T. L., Qubisi, S., ... Kennedy, M. A. (2020). Common Variants Coregulate Expression of GBA and Modifier Genes to Delay Parkinson's Disease Onset. Movement disorders : official journal of the Movement Disorder Society10.1002/mds.28144
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Jo Perry, Tayaza Fadason, Alan Davidson, Justin O'Sullivan
  • Jayasinghe, T. N., Vatanen, T., Chiavaroli, V., Jayan, S., McKenzie, E. J., Adriaenssens, E., ... Battin, M. R. (2020). Differences in Compositions of Gut Bacterial Populations and Bacteriophages in 5–11 Year-Olds Born Preterm Compared to Full Term. Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, 10.10.3389/fcimb.2020.00276
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Justin O'Sullivan, Tommi Vatanen, José Derraik, Malcolm Battin, Eric Thorstensen, Paul Hofman, Mark Vickers
  • Jain, L., Fadason, T., Schierding, W., Vickers, M. H., O'Sullivan JM, & Perry, J. K. (2020). 3D interactions with the growth hormone locus in cellular signalling and cancer-related pathways. Journal of molecular endocrinology, 64 (4), 209-222. 10.1530/jme-20-0010
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Justin O'Sullivan, Mark Vickers, Jo Perry
  • Gokuladhas, S., Schierding, W., Cameron-Smith, D., Wake, M., Scotter, E. L., & O'Sullivan J (2020). Shared Regulatory Pathways Reveal Novel Genetic Correlations Between Grip Strength and Neuromuscular Disorders. Frontiers in genetics, 1110.3389/fgene.2020.00393
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Justin O'Sullivan, David Cameron-Smith, Melissa Wake, Emma Scotter
  • Gokuladhas, S., Schierding, W., Cameron-Smith, D., Wake, M., Scotter, E., & O’Sullivan J (2019). Shared regulatory pathways reveal novel genetic correlations between grip strength and neuromuscular disorders. 10.1101/765495
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Justin O'Sullivan
  • Couto Alves, A., De Silva, N. M. G., Karhunen, V., Sovio, U., Das, S., Taal, H. R., ... Cousminer, D. L. (2019). GWAS on longitudinal growth traits reveals different genetic factors influencing infant, child, and adult BMI. Science advances, 5 (9)10.1126/sciadv.aaw3095
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Justin O'Sullivan
  • Sander, V., Salleh, L., Naylor, R. W., Schierding, W., Sontam, D. M., O'Sullivan JM, & Davidson, A. J. (2019). Transcriptional profiling of the zebrafish proximal tubule. American journal of physiology. Renal physiology10.1152/ajprenal.00174.2019
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/48353
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Dharani Sontam, Veronika Sander, Justin O'Sullivan, Alan Davidson
  • Fadason, T., Schierding, W., Kolbenev, N., Liu, J., Ingram, J., & O’Sullivan J (2019). Reconstructing the blood metabolome and genotype using long-range chromatin interactions. 10.1101/656132


Contact details

Primary office location

M&HS BUILDING 505 - Bldg 505
Level 2, Room 206
New Zealand

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