Synthetic Biology and Biotechnology

Our research looks at how biological molecules lead to cellular function and mis-function. We also have a strong focus on translating basic research into applied biotechnology; biological systems are exploited to develop new techniques, technologies, processes and products for use beyond academia. We have a history of spin-out companies based on the research done by teams in our department and regularly form collaborations with industrial partners. See our Industrial Links page for more information.

Recent Research Highlights

Some of the big stories in this research area recently published by our staff

DNA thumbStudy uncovers key step in cell protein production

  • Viphakone N, Sudbery I, Griffith L, Heath CG, Sims D & Wilson SA (2019|) Co-transcriptional Loading of RNA Export Factors Shapes the Human Transcriptome. Molecular Cell. 75, 310-323.

DNA light-switch compoundStructural insights into DNA light-switch compound

  • Fairbanks SD, Robertson CC, Keene FR, Thomas JA & Williamson MP (2019) Structural Investigation into the Threading Intercalation of a Chiral Dinuclear Ruthenium(II) Polypyridyl Complex through a B-DNA Oligonucleotide. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 141(11), 4644-4652.

Cell cycleInteracting partners of Cdc14 have diverse roles in the cell cycle

  • Kaneva IN, Sudbery IM, Dickman MJ & Sudbery PE (2019) Proteins that physically interact with the phosphatase Cdc14 in Candida albicans have diverse roles in the cell cycle. Scientific Reports, 9, 6258.

Green EcoliAssembling the chlorophyll biosynthetic pathway into E. coli

  • Chen GE, Canniffe DP, Barnett SFH, Hollingshead S, Brindley AA, Vasilev C, Bryant DA & Neil Hunter C (2018) Complete enzyme set for chlorophyll biosynthesis in Escherichia coli. Science Advances, 4(1), 1407.

Opportunities for study in this research area

Postgraduate Masters Course (MSc) in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology

Our one-year MSc course in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology is designed to meet the growing demand for skilled, multi-disciplinary bioscientists to take on roles in academia, industry and healthcare.

Click here for more information


For further information and research opportunities, please see the staff page of individual researchers below:

David KellyProfessor Dave Kelly

  • Molecular physiology and pathogenicity of the food-borne human pathogen Campylobacter jejuni
  • Transport and metabolic pathways in the versatile phototrophic purple bacterium Rhodopseudomonas palustris.

T: 0114 222 4414

Lynda PartridgeDr Linda Partridge

  • Human leucocyte antigens, specifically the structure and function of tetraspanins, a conserved family of mammalian transmembrane proteins. Role of tetraspanins in bacterial infection.
  • Monoclonal antibody technology for research and medicine.

T: 0114 222 4185

Andrew HitchcockDr Andrew Hitchcock

  • Bacterial Photosynthesis
  • Cofactor synthesis
  • Membrane biogenesis
  • Redesigning Light harvesting

T: 0114 222 xxxx

hunternProfessor Neil Hunter FRS

  • Bacterial photosynthesis
  • Reaction Centres
  • Chlorophyll biosynthesis
  • Synthetic biology

T: 0114 222 4191

hornbydProfessor David Hornby

  • Structural study of proteins and DNA primarily by X-ray crystallography and electron microscopy to gain 3D insights of biological macromolecules and their assemblies. 

T: 0114 222 4232

Patrick BakerDr Pat Baker

  • Use of protein crystallography to study the structure/function relationships in biological macromolecules, including substrate specificity and chiral synthesis in enzymes and the molecular basis of stability in proteins from extremophiles.

T: 0114 222 2725

williamsonmProfessor Mike Williamson

  • Protein structure determination, protein mobility and interactions with ligands by 2D and 3D NMR. Targets include bacterial pathogenesis proteins and human disease-state proteins.

T: 0114 222 4224

raffertyjDr John Rafferty

  • Structural study of proteins and DNA primarily by X-ray crystallography and electron microscopy to gain 3D insights of biological macromolecules and their assemblies. 

T: 0114 222 2809

Research Institutes

Our Research on synthetic biology and biotechnology is supported by and feeds into the following University Research Institutes.

Institute for Sustainable Food

Healthy Lifespan


Neuroscience Institute