Mechanistic Molecular and Cellular Bioscience

To understand and exploit knowledge of how microbial, plant and animal cells are built, maintained and function requires knowledge of the molecular structures involved and how the interactions of these structures are controlled. An understanding of these processes promotes the design and development of new biomaterials and helps in the validation of therapeutic targets to enable the discovery of novel drugs and vaccines.

Research Topics

  • Membrane proteins. Membrane proteins account for ~30% of a cell’s proteome and are the targets of many commonly used drugs, yet are severely underrepresented in the Protein Data Bank. Research in this area aims to support the structural, functional and biophysical dissection of membrane proteins to underpin research in biotechnology and human, animal and plant health. Students will benefit from state-of-the-art resources such as the Oxford Protein Production Facility (OPPF) and the Membrane Protein Laboratory at RC@H; facilities for solid state NMR and solution NMR for structure determination and dynamics measurements of membrane protein complexes; expertise in the use of neutron reflectometry to study protein-lipid interactions at ISIS, and world-leading expertise in the investigation of membrane protein complexes by mass spectrometry.
  • Post-translational modification and epigenetics. Post-translational modification (PTM) and epigenetics are intimately involved in normal cellular development and ageing, and in the onset of disease. PTMs modulate protein function, promote new interactions and regulate supramolecular assemblies, while epigenetic modification of DNA is a major form of cellular control. Our partnership includes researchers with expertise that spans the chemical, structural and cellular analysis of PTMs and epigenetic regulation.
  • Supramolecular assemblies. Two of the great challenges in biology are to understand how large, multicomponent cellular structures are built and how viruses are assembled. Students will be able to draw on expertise across the DTP to explore the structure and function of supramolecular assemblies at unprecedented resolution, and will benefit from leading developments in instrumentation and methods for macromolecular crystallography (Diamond MX). Neutron scattering and small-angle neutron scattering (ISIS) can be used to probe protein-protein interactions in assemblies. Students will also benefit from cutting edge facilities for microscopic imaging through centres such as The Micron Advanced Bioimaging Unit, the Wolfson Imaging Centre and the STFC Central Laser Facility.
  • Pathogen biology and immunology. Understanding the molecular basis of immunity and infection is a major challenge, with practical benefits in fields such as vaccine development. Although many of the attributes of the immune system are conserved across different organisms, important molecular details can be very different. Our partnership encompasses a large number of researchers with expertise in the molecular and genetic basis of immunity and infection in animals and plants; the comparative biology of adaptive immunity, and in the genetic basis of pathogen diversity and virulence. Students will be able to apply the technologies outlined above to address important, underpinning questions in infection and immunity.