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Personal profile

Summary

I am a Professor of Structural Biology and the Director for the newly-established Centre for Enzyme Innovation (CEI) at the University of Portsmouth. With a strong background in the discovery and engineering of enzymes for the depolymerisation of lignocellulose plant biomass, we have turned our attention to the global challenge of man-made plastic polymers for bio-based recycling and upcycling applications.

My technical expertise is in protein biophysics with a focus on structural biology. I employ a range of hydrodynamic and spectroscopic methods in parallel with X-ray crystallography to reveal the detailed mechanisms of enzyme function. I am keen to embrace the development of synchrotron X-ray techniques and work closely with colleagues at the Diamond Light Source. My group works with a range of complementary techniques including nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and electron microscopy, and we are particularly excited about the new opportunities coming online with free electron lasers such as the European XFEL.

We are interested in understanding enzyme function at the atomic level, and through the CEI, we work with a host of superb international collaborators from academic laboratories, institutes and industry. Locally, I work closely with Dr Andy Pickford, Prof Anastasia Callaghan and Prof Simon Cragg, co-supervising multiple PhD studentships. I have strong research collaborations with Dr Gregg Beckham at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, Prof Ellen Neidle (University of Georgia), Prof Jen Dubois (Montana University) and Prof Henry Woodcock (University of South Florida).

Recent highlights from our team include the characterisation and engineering of an enzyme, PETase, that can digest polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a common plastic found in single-use plastic bottles and clothing (Austin et al. 2018). The associated paper reached the Altmetric top 100 for 2018 and was widely covered in the media. 

Research Interests

  • Structural characterisation of enzymes for plastic depolymerisation
  • Engineering enzymes for industrial biotechnology applications
  • Structure-led design of lignocellulose degrading enzymes
  • Biochemical and biophysical analysis of enzyme-polymer interactions
  • Synchrotron-based analysis of proteins and protein-complexes

Biography

I graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1993, with a BSc (Hons) degree in Microbiology, before going on to complete a PhD in Virology at the MRC Virology Unit, Glasgow. My research career continued in the Structural Biology Laboratories at the University of York, before I joined Professor Geoff Kneales’ group at the University of Portsmouth in 2000, where I worked on DNA-binding proteins. In 2005, I completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship with the EMBL-Grenoble, France, where I researched macromolecular crystallography and spectroscopy in Dr Raimond Ravelli's group. In 2007, I re-joined the University of Portsmouth - initially as a Research Council UK (RCUK) Fellow - and commissioned an X-ray crystallography facility. I was appointed to Reader in 2012 and Professor in 2016.

Media Availability

I am happy to take calls and emails from media on the research from my group. Initial requests should be directed to my PA, Jacky Dillon, - jacky.dillon@port.ac.uk

Interested journalists can also contact the University's Media and Communications team for support and advice on all media engagement, including out of hours.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Devlopment Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy
  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water

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