Dr. Kári Stefánsson – CEO deCODE Genetics

Kári Stefánsson is an Icelandic neurologist and founder and CEO of the Reykjavik-based biopharmaceutical company deCODE genetics.


In Iceland he has pioneered the use of population-scale genetics to understand variation in the sequence of the human genome.


His work has focused on how genomic diversity is generated and on the discovery of sequence variants impacting susceptibility to common diseases. This population approach has served as a model for national genome projects around the world.

The sequencing of the Icelandic population’s DNA by deCODE genetics has also revealed more about who were the original settlers of Iceland, showing over 60% of the female and 20% of the male DNA came from gaelic people. But the deCODE Genetics research also shows how the isolation of the Icelandic people, for hundreds of years, has shaped their genetic code so that the modern Icelandic people are quite different from their original Norwegian and Gaelic roots.


In this small population of just 330,000 people (it was only about 150,000 until the mid 20th Century) genetics and ancestry is a national interest where people like to trace their line back to a character in the Icelandic Sagas. But while the Sagas were written a few centuries after the settlement the deCode genetics work, on both the modern population, and ancient skeletons gives a scientific window on a thousand year old story.