Primate Immunogenetics and Molecular Ecology Research Group (PrIME)

Dr. Leslie Knapp
Director Dr Leslie A Knapp

T: +44 (0) 1223 334465
F: +44 (0) 1223 335460

Current position
Head of the Division of Biological Anthropology.
University Reader in Primate Genetics and Behaviour.
Fellow and College Lecturer in Biological Natural Sciences, Emmanuel College.

Previous positions held
Postdoctoral Fellow, Regional Primate Research Center, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Research interests
My research interests center on the study of genetic variation in human and non-human primate populations. Specifically, I seek to understand how demography and environment influence genetic diversity and how genetic factors influence inter-individual differences in health, reproductive success and behavior in humans and other primates. My work also involves the application of molecular genetic data to questions of primate taxonomy and evolution.

Pig-tailed macaqueAs a Ph.D. student at UCLA, my doctoral research focused on the investigation of immunogenetic factors contributing to pregnancy wastage in pigtailed macaques (Macaca nemestrina). The basis for this research was the observation that immunogenetic similarity between mates is associated with decreased fecundability and increased fetal wastage in some mammalian species. Although controversial, studies in humans, rodents and swine suggested that the highly polymorphic genetic loci responsible for immune response and graft rejection (i.e., the major histocompatibility complex, or MHC) also played a role in reproductive outcome. My doctoral studies of histocompatibility antigen sharing among reproductively successful and unsuccessful pigtailed macaque couples revealed a highly significant amount of MHC antigen sharing among unsuccessful breeders. These findings provide compelling support for MHC, or MHC-linked, genes playing a critical role in primate reproduction. This research also suggests that prenatal selection may represent an additional mechanism for the maintenance of genetic diversity in the major histocompatibility complex and that there is a need for continued study of MHC genes and reproduction in primates.

My interest in studying MHC genes to facilitate understanding of ecological and evolutionary questions then led me to conduct post-doctoral research at the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center (WRPRC). At the WRPRC, I developed molecular genetic techniques for the identification and study of MHC genes in macaques and other primates. Using molecular techniques that include the polymerase chain reaction, gel electrophoresis and nucleotide sequencing, I characterized various MHC genes from humans, rhesus macaques and New World monkeys. This work was used to study the effects of natural selection on MHC genes in primates, to examine the antiquity and evolution of particular MHC loci and to evaluate the relationship between habitat, MHC genes and disease.

In 1997, I began lecturing in Biological Anthropology at Cambridge and established a research program for the genetic study of primate molecular ecology and evolution. My research group, collectively known as PrIME (Primate Immunogenetics and Molecular Ecology), is composed of Ph.D., Master's and undergraduate students. We also have occasional post-doctoral visitors.

List of publications (selected)

Fox, M., R. Sear, J. Beise, G. Ragsdale, E. Voland and L.A. Knapp (2011) The selfish grandma gene: the roles of the x-chromosome and paternity uncertainty in the evolution of grandmothering behavior and longevity.  International Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 165919. Epub 2011 Mar 15


Cammen K., J.I. Hoffman, L.A. Knapp, J. Harwood and W. Amos (2011) Geographic variation of the major histocompatibility complex in Eastern Atlantic grey seals (Halichoerus grypus). Molecular Ecology, 20(4):740-752.


Setchell, J.M., S. Vaglio, K.M. Abbott, J. Moggi-Cecchi, F. Boscaro, G. Pieraccini and L.A. Knapp (2011) Odour signals major histocompatibility complex genotype in an Old World monkey. Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences, 278(1703):274-280. 


Setchell J.M., T. Smith, E.J. Wickings and L.A. Knapp (2010) Stress, social behaviour, and secondary sexual traits in a male primate. Hormones & Behavior, 58(5):720-728.

Huchard E, L.A. Knapp, J. Wang, M. Raymond and G. Cowlishaw (2010) MHC, mate choice and heterozygote advantage in a wild social primate. Molecular Ecology, 19(12): 2545-2561.

Célérier A., E. Huchard, A. Alvergne, D. Féjan, F. Plard, G. Cowlishaw, M. Raymond, L.A Knapp and F. Bonadonna (2010) Detective mice assess relatedness in baboons using olfactory cues. Journal of Experimental Biology, 213(Pt 9):1399-1405.

Huchard E., M. Raymond, J. Benavides, H. Marshall, L.A. Knapp and G. Cowlishaw (2010). A female signal reflects MHC genotype in a social primate. BMC Evolutionary Biology, Apr 7;10:96.

Huchard E., A. Alvergne, D. Féjan, F., L.A Knapp G. Cowlishaw and M. Raymond (2010) More than friends? Behavioural and genetic aspects of heterosexual associations in wild chacma baboons. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 64(5): 769-781.

Wang, J., P Brekke, E. Huchard, LA Knapp and G Cowlishaw (2010) Estimation of parameters of inbreeding and genetic drift in populations with overlapping generations.  Evolution.64(6):1704-1718.

Fox, M, R Sear, J Beise, G Ragsdale, E Voland and L.A. Knapp (2010) Grandma plays Favourites: X Chromosome Relatedness and Sex Specific Childhood Mortality. Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences, 277(1681):567-573.

Setchell, J.M, S Vaglio, J Moggi-Cecchi, F Boscaro, L Calamai and LA Knapp (2010) Chemical composition of scent-gland secretions in an Old World monkey (Mandrillus sphinx): influence of sex, male status, and individual identity. Chemical Senses, 35(3):205-220.

Setchell, J.M., M.J.E. Charpentier, K.M. Abbott, E.J. Wickings and L.A. Knapp. (2010) Opposites attract: MHC-based mate choice in an Old World primate. Journal of Evolutionary Biology (1):136-148.

Setchell, J.M., M.J.E. Charpentier, K.M. Abbott, E.J. Wickings and L.A. Knapp. (2009) Is brightest best? Testing the Hamilton-Zuk hypothesis in mandrills. International Journal of Primatology, 30(6):825-844.

Huchard, E., J. Benavides, J. Setchell, M. Charpentier, A. Alvergne,  L.A. Knapp, G. Cowlishaw and M. Raymond. (2009) Studying shape in sexual signals: the case of primate sexual swellings. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 63(8):1231-1242.

Majolo, B., R. Ventura, N.F. Koyama, S.M. Hardie, B.M. Jones, L.A. Knapp and G. Schino.  (2009) Analysing the effects of group size and food competition on Japanese macaque social relationships. Behaviour, 146(1):113-137.

Huchard, E., A. Courtiol, J.  Benavides, L.A. Knapp, M. Raymond and G. Cowlishaw. (2009) Can fertility signals lead to quality signals? Insights from the evolution of primate sexual swellings. Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences, 276(1663):1889-1897.

Mee, ET, A. Badhan, J.A. Karl, R.W. Wiseman, K. Cutler, L.A. Knapp, N. Almond, D.H. O’Connor and N.J. Rose (2009) MHC haplotype frequencies in a UK breeding colony of Mauritian cynomolgus macaques mirror those found in a distinct population from the same geographic origin. Journal of Medical Primatology, 38(1):1-14.

Huchard, E., Weill, M., Cowlishaw, G, Raymond, M and L. A. Knapp (2008) Polymorphism, haplotype composition and selection in the Mhc-DRB of wild baboons.  Immunogenetics, 60(10):585-598.

Setchell, J.M., T.E. Smith, E.J. Wickings and L.A. Knapp. (2008) Factors affecting fecal glucocorticoid levels in semi-free ranging female mandrills. American Journal of Primatology, 70(11):1023-1032.

Setchell, J.M., T.E. Smith, E.J. Wickings and L.A. Knapp. (2008) Social correlates of testosterone and ornamentation in male mandrills. Hormones and Behavior, 54(3):365-372.

Leigh, S.R., J.M. Setchell, L.A. Knapp and E.J. Wickings (2008). Growing long in the tooth: Canine tooth size and fitness in male mandrills. Journal of Human Evolution, 55(1):75-85.

Setchell J.M., I. Bedjabaga, B. Goossens, P. Reed, E.J. Wickings and L.A. Knapp (2007)  Parasite prevalence, diversity and parasite load in a semi free-ranging colony of mandrills.  International Journal of Primatology.28:1345-1362.

Knapp, L.A. (2007) Selection on MHC?  A matter of form over function.  Heredity,99(3):241-242.

Setchell J.M., P. Tshipamba, O. Bourry, P. Roquet, E.J. Wickings and L.A. Knapp. (2006) Haematology of a semi-free-ranging colony of mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx).  International Journal of Primatology, 27(6):1709-1729.

Huchard, E., G. Cowllishaw, M. Raymond, M. Weill and L.A. Knapp (2006) Molecular study of Mhc-DRB in wild chacma baboons reveals high variability and evidence for trans-species inheritance.  Immunogenetics, 58(10):805-816.

Abbott, K.M., E.J. Wickings and L.A. Knapp (2006) High levels of diversity characterise mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx) Mhc-DRB sequences. Immunogenetics,58(8):628-640.

Roy Choudhury, S. and L.A. Knapp  (2006) A review of the ethical guidelines on conducting non-therapeutic genetic studies in developing countries. European Journal of Human Genetics, 14:9-16.

Charpentier M., J.M. Setchell, F. Prugnoll, L.A. Knapp, E.J. Wickings, P. Peignot and M. Hossaert-McKey M (2005) Genetic diversity and reproductive success in Mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx).  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 102(46):16723-16728.

Setchell, J.M., E.J. Wickings and L.A. Knapp (2006) Signal content of red facial coloration in female mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx).  Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences, 273(1599):2395-2400.

Setchell, J.M., M.J.E. Charpentier, I. Bedjabaga, P. Reed, E.J. Wickings and L.A. Knapp (2006) Secondary sexual characters and female quality in primates. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 61(2):305-315.

Setchell, J.M., E.J. Wickings and L.A. Knapp (2006)Life history in male mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx): Physical development, dominance rank and group association.  American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 131(4):498-510.

Knapp, L.A. Robson, J. and J.S. Waterhouse (2006) Olfactory signals and the MHC: A review and a case study in Lemur catta. American Journal of Primatology, 68(6):568-584.

Knapp, L.A. (2005) Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) and its use in detection of MHC polymorphism.  Tissue Antigens 65(3):211-219.

Knapp, L.A. (2005)  The ABCs of MHC. Evolutionary Anthropology14(1): 28-37.

Knapp, L.A. (2005)  Comment: Facts, faeces and setting standards for the study of Mhc genes using non-invasive samples Molecular Ecology 14(5):1597-1599.

Full list of publications (pdf) Full list of publications (pdf)

© 2007-2010 University of Cambridge, Department of Biological Anthropology [ webmaster ]
Home About Research People Funding Contact Links