I am a Professor of Molecular Biophysics and the Operations Director for the Centre for Enzyme Innovation (CEI) at the University of Portsmouth. My principal research interest is the relationship between structure, flexibility and function in enzymes that degrade challenging natural and man-made polymers, such as plastics and collagen.
My expertise covers all aspects of enzyme engineering and analysis, from the recombinant expression of proteins in microbial hosts (e.g. fermentation in Pichia pastoris) and their subsequent purification, through biochemical assays of enzyme activity (e.g. high-throughput assays using fluorogenic substrates) and interactions (e.g. surface plasmon resonance analysis), to characterisation of enzyme structure and dynamics (e.g. by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and small-angle x-ray scattering (SAXS)). I have served as a panel member, and most recently as chair, of the Diamond Light Source soft condensed matter beamtime awarding committee, assessing proposals for access to the SAXS and circular dichroism (CD) beamlines.
My research publications have included the two most-cited research articles submitted to RAE2008 from the University’s Biomolecular Structure group (Schwarz-Linek et al. 2003; Wegener et al. 2007), and the most-cited research article submitted to REF2014 from the Molecular Biophysics group (Phillips et al. 2011). Notably, the REF2014 panel commended the Molecular Biophysics group for its “particularly strong work”.
Within the CEI, I collaborate closely with Prof John McGeehan and Prof Anastasia Callaghan. Externally, my collaborators include Prof Gregg Beckham (NREL, Colorado), Nikul Khunti (Diamond Light Source), Prof Gregg Fields (Florida Atlantic University), Dr Helena Azevedo (QMUL), and Dr Adrian Falconer and Prof Drew Rowan (Newcastle).
I graduated from the University of Oxford in 1993 with a BA (Hons) degree in Biochemistry. I went on to complete a DPhil in Biochemistry (1997) in the laboratory of Prof Iain Campbell in Oxford, and continued there as a Research Associate studying the structural biology of the extracellular matrix using NMR spectroscopy as my principal research tool. In September 2005, I joined the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Portsmouth as a Senior Lecturer in Biological NMR, and was promoted to Reader in 2016, and to Professor of Molecular Biophysics in 2020. From 2012 to 2018, I served as Associate Head (Research) in the School.
From my time as an undergraduate (UG) biochemistry student at Oxford, I clearly recall the enthusiastic and inspirational teaching that I received at such a formative time in my academic life. I delight in passing on that enthusiasm to my own UG students in lectures, tutorials and the laboratory, in the hope that it will inspire them to pursue a career in biological science, in the same way it did me. Indeed, many of my post-graduate research (PGR) students are former UoP graduates, and all of my PGR students have gone on to careers in academia or bio-based industry.
- Engineering enzymes for plastic depolymerisation
- Structural, dynamic and functional analysis of collagen-degrading enzymes
- Biophysical analysis of enzyme-substrate interactions
- Enhancing efficiency of enzyme production in bacteria and yeast