Bodmer's father was Jewish so the family were obliged to leave Germany in 1938 and settled in Manchester. In 1956 Bodmer married Julia Bodmer (born Julia Pilkington; 31 July 1934 – 29 January 2001), a British geneticist. They had three children.
In 1961 Bodmer joined Joshua Lederberg's laboratory in the Genetics Department of Stanford University, continuing his research on population genetics, using the computing facilities that Stanford could offer. In 1962 Walter Bodmer was appointed to the faculty at Stanford. He left Stanford University in 1970 to become the first Professor of Genetics at Oxford University .
Bodmer developed models for population genetics and worked on the human leukocyte antigen system and the use of somatic cell hybrids for human linkage studies. In 1985 he chaired a Royal Society committee which wrote The Bodmer Report; this has been credited with starting the movement for the public understanding of science. 
Bodmer was one of the first to suggest the idea of the Human Genome Project. In 1987 he received the Ellison-Cliffe Medal from the Royal Society of Medicine. He was the director of research (1979–1991) and then Director General (1991–1996) of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund. He was also Chancellor of the University of Salford, England (1995–2005; succeeded by Sir Martin Harris) and Principal of Hertford College, Oxford (1996–2005; succeeded by Dr. John Landers).
In 2005, Bodmer was appointed to lead a £2.3 million project (roughly 4.5 million USD) by the Wellcome Trust at Oxford University to examine the genetic makeup of the United Kingdom - the People of the British Isles project. He was joined by Oxford Professor Peter Donnelly (a population genetics and statistics expert) and the Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow Lon Cardon. Bodmer said "Our aim is to characterise the genetic make-up of the British population and relate this to the historical and archaeological evidence." The researchers presented some of their findings to the public via the Channel 4 television series "Faces of Britain." On 14 April 2007, Channel 4 in Britain aired a program that highlighted the study’s then-current findings. The project took DNA samples from hundreds of volunteers throughout Britain, seeking tell-tale fragments of DNA that would reveal the biological traces of successive waves of colonisers — Celts, Saxons, Vikings, etc. — in various parts of Britain. The findings showed that the Viking invasion of Britain was predominantly from Danish Vikings while the Orkney Islands were settled by Norwegian Vikings.
He is currently Head of the Cancer and Immunogenetics Laboratory in the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine at the University of Oxford. Research interests of the laboratory include the fundamental genetics and biology of colorectal cancer.
Honours and awards
- 1974 Fellow of the Royal Society in 1974 
- 1980 William Allan Award
- 1986 Knighted
- 1987 Ellison-Cliffe Medal from the Royal Society of Medicine.
- 1988 Honorary Degree (Doctor of Science) from the University of Bath.
- 1994 Michael Faraday Prize
- 2013 Royal Medal from the Royal Society
In 1984 Bodmer was invited to deliver the Royal Institution Christmas Lecture on The Message of the Genes.
- The Times 10 January 2009, Retrieved 2010-01-09
-  Retrieved 2010-12-04
- Conversation with Walter Bodmer, San Francisco, 4 Dec.2010
- "Fellows of the Royal Society". Royal Society. Retrieved 12 September 2013.
- "Honorary Graduates 1989 to present". bath.ac.uk. University of Bath. Retrieved 18 February 2012.
- The 1985 "Bodmer Report" on the Public Understanding of Science (pdf)
- Channel 4s "Faces of Britain"
- Colorectal cancer research at the IMM
- Catalogue of the archive of Sir Walter Bodmer and Lady Julia Bodmer held at the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford
- Portraits of Statisticians
- ANTIGENICS (Cancer Research Body)
- Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine
- University of Salford
- Radio National Australia interview with Sir Walter
The Duchess of York
|Chancellor of the University of Salford
Sir Martin Harris
|Principal of Hertford College, Oxford