Dr William Schierding

PhD, Bioinformatics

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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)

  • Leask, M., Dowdle, A., Salvesen, H., Topless, R., Fadason, T., Wei, W., ... O'Sullivan JM (2019). Functional Urate-Associated Genetic Variants Influence Expression of lincRNAs LINC01229 and MAFTRR (vol 9, 733, 2019). FRONTIERS IN GENETICS, 1010.3389/fgene.2019.00382
  • Leong, K. S. W., Jayasinghe, T. N., Derraik, J. G. B., Albert, B. B., Chiavaroli, V., Svirskis, D. M., ... Schierding, W. (2019). Protocol for the Gut Bugs Trial: a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled trial of gut microbiome transfer for the treatment of obesity in adolescents. BMJ open, 9 (4)10.1136/bmjopen-2018-026174
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Karen Leong, Jose Derraik, Darren Svirskis, Yannan Jiang, Tommi Vatanen, Justin O'Sullivan
  • Ramzan, F., Mitchell, C. J., Milan, A. M., Schierding, W., Zeng, N., Sharma, P., ... Roy, N. C. (2019). Comprehensive Profiling of the Circulatory miRNAome Response to a High Protein Diet in Elderly Men: A Potential Role in Inflammatory Response Modulation. Molecular nutrition & food research, 63 (8)10.1002/mnfr.201800811
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Randall D'Souza, Farha Ramzan, Amber Milan
  • Ho, D. S. W., Schierding, W., Wake, M., Saffery, R., & O'Sullivan J (2019). Machine Learning SNP Based Prediction for Precision Medicine. FRONTIERS IN GENETICS, 1010.3389/fgene.2019.00267
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Justin O'Sullivan
  • Diesch, J., Bywater, M. J., Sanij, E., Cameron, D. P., Schierding, W., Brajanovski, N., ... Evers, M. (2019). Changes in long-range rDNA-genomic interactions associate with altered RNA polymerase II gene programs during malignant transformation. Communications biology, 210.1038/s42003-019-0284-y
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Justin O'Sullivan
  • Fadason, T., Schierding, W., Lumley, T., & O'Sullivan JM (2018). Chromatin interactions and expression quantitative trait loci reveal genetic drivers of multimorbidities. Nature communications, 9 (1)10.1038/s41467-018-07692-y
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/46205
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Tayaza Fadason, Justin O'Sullivan, Thomas Lumley
  • Leask, M., Merriman, T. R., Dowdle, A., Salvesen, H., Topless, R., Fadason, T., ... Horsfield, J. (2018). Non-Coding Urate-Associated Variants Function in a Conserved Lincrna Regulatory Domain That Alters MAF transcription. ARTHRITIS & RHEUMATOLOGY. (pp. 2).
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Justin O'Sullivan
  • Gamage, T. K. J. B., Schierding, W., Tsai, P., Ludgate, J. L., Chamley, L. W., Weeks, R. J., ... James, J. L. (2018). GLOBAL DNA METHYLATION LEVELS ARE COMPARABLE BETWEEN TROPHOBLAST POPULATIONS AND MANY SOMATIC CELLS. Paper presented at Meeting of the International-Federation-of-Placenta-Associations (IFPA), Tokyo, JAPAN. 21 September - 24 September 2018. PLACENTA. (pp. 1).
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Jo James, Larry Chamley


Contact details

Primary office location

M&HS BUILDING 503 - Bldg 503
Level 2, Room 201
New Zealand

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