Academic qualifications, appointments and publications


Frank Ryan - Condensed Academic Profile


MB, ChB (hons) Sheffield University Medical School. Graduated medallist of his year in the first MB.ChB examination. Herbert Price Memorial Prize for original research on virus/antibody response study as undergraduate.



Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians; Fellow Royal Society of Medicine; Fellow of the Linnean Society of London; Member of the International Symbiosis Society; Member of the BMA; Member of the Society of Authors



Honorary Senior Lecturer, the Academic Unit of Medical Education, University of Sheffield - currently involved in teaching evolutionary biology as a module in the final year of the Sheffield Medical School final year course for the MB, ChB qualification. Emeritus consultant physician, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, with lectureship appointment to Sheffield Medical School. Emeritus consultant medical adviser to Sheffield Health Authority. Former honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, Sheffield University, aimed at defining and extrapolating the role of evolutionary biology to medicine.


Consultant physician to Sheffield Teaching Hospitals. 

Director of the Department of Gastroenterology at the Northern General Hospital, Sheffield.

Helped set up the Institute of Nutrition at the Northern General Hospital in 1989, run by Professor Read.

Consultant Advisor and lecturer to the Nutrition Institute, Northern General Hospital

Since 1992 to present, new research interest in evolutionary biology and its extrapolation to medicine. 

Honorary senior lecturer to Sheffield University Medical School.

Since 2007, Honorary Research Fellow to the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, Sheffield University.  In 2012 this switched to the Academic Department of Medical Education, Sheffield University.

Former sectional editor for Royal Society of Medicine, London.



My research is broadly divided into two phases.

From the early 1970s to 1992 I worked largely in gastroenterology and nutrition, where my interests were ulcer healing, where I conducted the first clinical trials of ranitidine (Zantac), worked on improving our understanding of gastric cancer and the autoimmune disturbance in diseases such as ulcerative colitis. My lab work also included a long series of experiments using the bacteriophage virus, ?X174, to probe the mammalian immune response to intravenous viral invasion. This also extended to demonstrating that patients suffering from a single autoimmune disease, such as ulcerative colitis, SLE or rheumatoid arthritis, for example, often had the marker autoimmune antibodies to several other autoimmune diseases in their blood. Long-term follow up of my patients showed that a significant number went on to develop the diseases that had been signalled much earlier by the antibodies in their blood.

From 1992 to the present I became interested in evolutionary biology in relation to medicine. In particular I developed the theoretical aspects and methodology that would help to establish that viruses, while undoubtedly following classical neo-Darwinian evolutionary dynamics, frequently followed an additional symbiogenetic dynamic. This led me to develop the theory of viral symbiosis, defining the concept, and introducing related concepts of "aggressive symbiosis", "genomic creativity", genetic symbiosis in relation to viral invasion of host genomes, and from there to introduce and define the concept of natural selection operating at the level of a "holobiontic genome".

I was also the physician on call for the Hillsborough Disaster and co-author of the report in the British Medical Journal.

I was co-organiser of a two-day international meeting at the Linnean Society of London on July 3rd and 4th 2008, with the title: The Driving Forces of Evolution: From Darwin to the Modern Age.


SCIENTIFIC PAPERS (abbreviated list taken in order from the most recent)In press.

Luis P. Villarreal and Frank Ryan. Viruses in the Origin of Life and its Subsequent Diversification. Handbook of Astrobiology, published 2018.

Frank Ryan. How viruses and bacteria have shaped the human genome: the implications for disease. Chapter 10, The Human Microbiota and Chronic Disease: Dysbiosis as a Cause of Human Pathology. Ist Ed. Ed L. Nibali and B Henderson. John Wiley & Sons Inc, 2016.

Francis Patrick Ryan. Viral symbiosis and the holobiontic nature of the human genome.  APMIS 2016; 124: 11-19.

Fei Chen, Christina Atterby, Per-Henrik Edqvist, Fredrik Pontén, Erik Larsson* and Frank P Ryan. Expression of HERV-R ERV3 encoded Env-protein in human tissues: introducing a novel protein-antibody-based proteomics. J Royal Society of Medicine 2013; 107(1) 22-29.

Villarreal LP and Ryan FP. Viruses in Host Evolution: General Principles and Future Extrapolations. 

Current Topics in Virology : 79-90.2011; 9

Ryan FP. Metamorphosis. New Scientist; 24 September 2011: 56-59.

Ryan FP. I, Virus. New Scientist; 30 January 2010: 32-35.

Ryan FP. . An alternative approach to medical genetics based on modern evolutionary biology. Part 1: mutation and symbiogenesis. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 2009; 102: 272-77.

Ryan FP. An alternative approach to medical genetics based on modern evolutionary biology. Part 2: retroviral symbiosis. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 2009; 102: 324-31..

Ryan FP. An alternative approach to medical genetics based on modern evolutionary biology. Part 3: HERVs in diseases. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 2009; 102: 415-24.

Ryan FP. An alternative approach to medical genetics based on modern evolutionary biology. Part 4: HERVs in cancer. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 2009; 102: 474-80.

Ryan FP. An alternative approach to medical genetics based on modern evolutionary biology. Part 5: epigenetics and genomics.  Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 2009; 102: 530-7.

Ryan FP. Valuable Viruses. Chapter 1 in The Origins of Self, edited by Lynn Margulis, in Press, Chelsea Green Publishers.

Ryan FP. Viruses as symbionts. Symbiosis  2007; 44: 11-21.

Ryan FP (2006). Genomic creativity and natural selection: a modern synthesis. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 88: 655-72.

Ryan FP (2004). Human endogenous retroviruses in health and disease: a symbiotic perspective. J Royal Soc Medicine.

Ryan FP. Human Endogenous Retroviruses in Multiple Sclerosis: Potential for Novel Neuro-Pharmacological Research. Current Neuropharmacology 2011; 9: 360-369.

Ryan FP, Ward AM, Holdsworth CD. Autoimmunity, inflammatory bowel disease and hyposplenism. Quart J Med 1991; 78 (285): 59-63.

Wardrope J, Ryan F, Clark G, Venables G, Courtney Crosby A, Redgrave P. The Hillsborough tragedy. Br Med J 1991; 303: 1381-1385.

Bardhan KD, Ryan FP, et al.  Gastric ulcer healing: a comparison of rioprostil versus ranitidine.  Eur J Gastroenterology and Hepatology 1990; 2: 219-222.

Skander MP, Ryan FP. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and pain free peptic ulceration in the elderly. Br Med J 1988; 297: 833-834.

Finch PJ, Ryan FP, Rogers K, Holt S. Gastric enzymes as a screening test for gastric cancer. Gut 1987: 28: 319-322.

Bardhan KD, Ryan FP, et al.  Gastric ulcer healing: a comparison of rioprostil versus ranitidine.  Eur J Gastroenterology and Hepatology. E2: 219-222.

Wright A, Ryan FP, Willingham SE, Holt S, Page AC. Food allergy or intolerance in severe recurrent aphthous ulceration of the mouth. Br Med J 1986; 292: 1237-1238.

Ryan FP, Jorde R, Ehsanulla RSB, Summers K, Wood JR. A single night-time dose of ranitidine in the acute treatment of gastric ulcer. A European multicentre trial. Gut 1986; 27: 784-788.

Alstead EM, Ryan FP, Holdsworth CD, Ashton MG, Moore M. Ranitidine in the prevention of gastric and duodenal ulcer relapse. Gut 1983; 24: 280-282.

Ryan FP, Holdsworth CD. Hyposplenism in coeliac disease and inflammatory bowel disease. Internal Medicine for the Specialist 1983 (October): 151-163.

Ryan FP. A comparison of rantidine and placebo in the acute treatment of gastric ulcer. Publication of the Second International symposium on Ranitidine, Medicine Foundation 1983: 201-205.

Ashton MG, Holdsworth CD, Ryan FP, Moore M. Healing of gastric ulcers after one, two and three months of ranitidine. Br Med J 1982: 284: 467-470.

Ryan FP, Verrier Jones J, Wright JK, Holdsworth CD. Impaired immunity in patients with inflammatory bowel disease and hyposplenism: the response to intravenous ?X174. Gut 1981; 22: 187-189.

Palmer KR, Sherriff SB, Holdsworth CD, Ryan FP. Further experience of h yposplenism in inflammatory bowel disease. Quart J Med 1981; 50: 463-471.

Ryan FP, Holdsworth CD. Hyposplenism in inflammatory bowel disease. Ann Gastroentérol Hépatol 1981; 17 (2): 131-133.

Smart RC, Ryan FP, Holdsworth CD, Preston FE. Relationship between splenic size and splenic function. Gut 1978; 19: 56-59.

Ryan FP, Timperley W, Preston FE, Holdsworth CD. Cerebral involvement with disseminated intravascular coagulation. J Clin Path 1977; 30: 551-555.

Ryan FP, Preston FE, Smart RC, Holdsworth CD. Hyposplenism in ulcerative colitis. Lancet 1974 (ii): 318-322.

Ryan FP. Erythroderma due to peritrate and glyceryl trinitrate. Br J Derm 1972; 87; 498-500.



The Eskimo Diet (1990), co-authored with Dr Reg Saynor, was a major popular science bestseller in the UK.  This book pioneered the concept of the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, as the equivalent of essential fatty acids, which were now seen to play a vital role in many different organ systems of the human body.  The main message at that time was the role of the omega-3s from fish and marine sources in heart attack prevention.  Since then the role has been extended to include anti-inflammatory properties in the autoimmune diseases, particularly rheumatoid arthritis, and, with publication, in 2008, of Frank's The Brain Food Diet, has further extrapolated the role of DHA to reducing the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease, as well as a treatment role in depression.  


Tuberculosis: The Greatest Story Never Told (1992/3). Published in the US as The Forgotten Plague, told the human story of the discovery of the cure and explained why a new global epidemic of tuberculosis was once again threatening developed and developing countries. Welcomed with considerable acclaim by the World Health Organisation and by doctors in the US, where it helped in the fightback against the disease. Dr Ryan helped Sir John Crofton to resurrect the nurses' branch of the Tuberculosis Association and he worked with senior colleagues from the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal Society of Medicine and the Thoracic Society, to help improve awareness of what was happening in the UK and globally. World In Action and Horizon programs were based on this book on the same day. In the United States, under the title The Forgotten Plague, it took the cover and two additional pages in the New York Times Book Review in addition to front-page reviews in other leading papers, such as The Washington Post. It was subsequently judged a New York Times NON-FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR. This book also took the lead review in the Daily Telegraph in the UK and entered the UK non-fiction hardcover best-seller list. Two one-day plays were based on it, in Boston and Washington DC, involved the late distinguished actor, Jason Robards.


Virus X (1996/7). This book looks at the origins and behaviours of viruses such as HIV-1. It received outstanding reviews by fellow scientists in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times and took the front page of The Washington Post's Bookworld.  A full hour program on CBS television in the States was based on it and it has featured in a series of recent interviews on Radio 3 and 4 and the BBC Open University. In the UK, it took the lead review in the Daily Telegraph and was the subject of a feature in The Sunday Times colour supplement. The book was nevertheless seen as controversial. In particular Dr Ryan's discussion of how plague microbes, especially viruses, could sometimes change the evolution of their hosts, was regarded with scepticism. But time has once again proved him right and these concepts are now being embraced in scientific circles and universities. It was in this book he first coined concept of "aggressive symbiosis," now deemed an important breakthrough in our understanding of evolutionary mechanisms that are taken further in his new book, Darwin's Blind Spot.


Darwin's Blind Spot (2002/3)Published by Houghton Mifflin in US and Thomson-Texere in UK. While supportive of Darwin's theory of evolution by means of natural selection, it develops the role of symbiosis between species and cooperation within the human species as major forces in evolution. Innovative ideas include "aggressive symbiosis" as an evolutionary concept in plague evolution and  redefining of symbiosis to take into account viral interactions with host genomes. These ideas are being incorporated into college and university courses in many countries. Chosen as his "selected book" by US financial guru, Charlie Munger. This book has been the subject of many lectures and the novel symbiotic concepts and redefinition were an important innovatory feature of a key paper on human endogenous retroviruses currently in press in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.


Virolution (2009). Collins Publishers (HarperCollins, London).  On Sunday 12th February 2001 the code for the entire human genome was finally deciphered.  Embedded in the code were large fragments that were directly derived from viruses.  These fragments were evidence for the extraordinary role that viruses have played in the evolution of all life on Earth and their vital involvement in human evolution as well as a huge range of biological processes.


The Mystery of Metamorphosis (2011), Chesea Green, US; Metamorphosis: Unmasking the Mystery of How Life Transforms (2011), Oneworld, UK.  This book explores how metamorphosis - best known as the intricate trick by which caterpillars transform into butterflies - to reveal secrets that are shaking the scientific world.  Brings to life the work of pioneering naturalists who have traced metamorphosis in myriad species, from dragonflies to starfish to frogs, and even in human puberty, to contest some of our longest-held views about evolution.

The Mysterious World of the Human Genome (2015), William Collins, UK, Prometheus Books, USA. This book explains how the human genome actually works as a whole and how that knowledge is having a profound effect on our understanding of where we have come from and where we are likely to be going in the future.

Virusphere: From Common Colds to Ebola Epidemics - Why We Need the Viruses That Plague Us (2019). This book reveals the hidden domain of the "virosphere", from the oceans and marine ecologies to the soil, and extending to our human bodies, where, even in health, our gut and other cavities teem with viruses that play key roles in both disease and our human evolution.




Stanford University, course in evolutionary sociology based on Darwin's Blind Spot, 2005.

World Congress of the International Symbiosis Society in Vienna 2006: session devoted to viruses in symbiosis.

Darwin's Blind Spot is the only recommended book on a ten lecture adult learning course at the University of Delaware and is featured teaching on many university courses in the US, UK and Asia.Darwin's Blind Spot recommended as the "one book to read on evolutionary theory" by "Books in Heat". 

Darwin's Blind Spot was the "Amazon Featured Book" recommended by the eminent economist,  Charlie Munger at the 2003 Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting.

Darwin's Blind Spot recommended reading as a "primal book" by the globally based "Primal Therapy - the Center for the Sane

Tuberculosis: The Greatest Story Never Told (The Forgotten Plague) was judged non-fiction "Book of the Year" for the New York Times in 1993.

At the US National infectious diseases meeting in Washington 1994 a play was based on tuberculosis book, involving a number of leading Hollywood actors including the Academy Award winner, Jason Robards. This was the launching platform for a funding exercise against tuberculosis in the United States.




The combined Thoracic and Lung Association meeting in Boston 1993, where a play was based around the tuberculosis book.

Keynote lecture on the tuberculosis threat to the Royal College of Physicians, London, 1993.

Keynote lecture to the Royal College of Nurses, London, 1993, where Dr Ryan assisted Sir John Crofton in resurrecting the Nursing Branch of the Anti-Tuberculosis Association.

US National infectious diseases meeting in Washington 1994, when another play was based on tuberculosis book, involving a number of leading Hollywood actors including the Academy Award winner, Jason Robards.

Lecture on tuberculosis to the Henry Ford Health System and Mercy Health Services, Detroit, September 1994.

Snell lecture on tuberculosis at the British Thoracic Society meeting, November 1994.

Keynote lecture at meeting on tuberculosis at the Royal Society of Medicine, London, March 1996.

Keynote lecture to German National Thoracic Society meeting in March 1997.

Keynote lecture (evolutionary virology) to "Infectious Diseases 2,000" - a meeting in Madrid attended by 540 leading authorities from 36 countries in February/March 1997.

Millennium lecturer for the Royal Society of Medicine, March 2000.

Keynote lecturer on evolutionary aspects of virology in relation to blood transfusion safety at BioMérieux Workshop during the XXVIIIth Congress of the International Society of Blood Transfusion, Edinburgh, July 2004.

Lecture on "Viruses as Symbionts", delivered to the half day devoted to ideas of symbiotic viruses at the World Congress in Vienna in 2006. 

Co-host to two-day conference at the Linnean Society of London in 2008 in honour of the 150th anniversary of Darwin's first presentation there in 1858.

Guest Lecturer, Birmingham Children's Hospital, 25 June 2008, title, The New Evolution is the New Medicine.

"The John Butter" lecture on Human endogenous retroviruses: genetic implications for health and disease, at the Third Plymouth Eye and Vision Symposium, Plymouth, UK, 12th September 2008

Keynote lecturer, Biannual Symposium on Virology, at the Noble Foundation, Ardmore, Oklahoma, October 2008, with lecture titled, Viruses as Symbionts.




Various books translated into twelve languages, including German, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Chinese and Japanese.




Married to Barbara, with two children, Catherine, who is a general practitioner, and John, who graduated in business management and IT.