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 agrochemicals and helps in the validation of therapeutic targets to enable the discovery of novel drugs and vaccines. Students working in this theme will benefit from training in the latest biochemical, chemical biology and biophysical methodologies; in the use of mathematical and systems approaches to study cellular processes; and in microscopy, spectroscopy, imaging and image analysis. They will be able to access training in computational structural biology, and training at Harwell in the use of light, synchrotron radiation, neutrons and electrons for bioscience research.
- Structural Biology: Structural biology is central to many areas of research within the DTP. There are strong focuses on membrane structural biology, on the use of structural biology to study bacteria, viruses and parasites, and on analysis of the structure and function of enzymes and macromolecular complexes. We also have research strengths at the interface between computational modelling and simulation and structural biology. A number of new centres and facilities have been developed to support structural biology in DTP partner organisations, including facilities to support research in the rapidly developing field of cryo-electron microscopy, with both COSMIC at Oxford, eBIC at Diamond Light Source and the next generation of electron imaging at the Rosalind Franklin Institute. The UK XFEL hub is embedded at Diamond Light Source and students can also benefit from a new collaboration focused on 2-dimensional IR spectroscopy at CLF and RFI, which will provide dynamic and structural information on biomolecules. Collaborative work between ISIS and the University of Oxford aims to integrate neutron techniques with modelling and structural biology to understand membrane-protein interactions.
- Microbiology: Our microbiological research centres on bacteria, viruses and trypanosomatids and spans molecular mechanisms through to cell biology and population-based studies. Virology is part of the core mission of the Pirbright Institute (discussed under Animal Health), and is complemented by expertise at Oxford and Harwell. The Jenner Institute, which focuses on research relevant to vaccine development, is run in partnership between the University of Oxford and Pirbright. In addition to structural biology, we have expertise in the biochemical and biophysical dissection of bacterial cellular transport processes and in the development of novel single molecule imaging methods and advanced imaging techniques to understand cell division, transcription, DNA repair and motility. We have distinctive interdisciplinary expertise in biofilms, which integrates both experimental and mathematical modelling approaches. At a population level, we have expertise in microbial evolution, including the emergence of antimicrobial resistance, and the dynamics and transmission of infectious disease in animals and plants. Integrative microbiome research investigates interactions between bacterial communities and their host, with the aim to engineer beneficial communities for improved animal, plant and human health.
- Cellular Mechanisms: Understanding cellular and physiological mechanisms across multiple scales and systems is one of the key strengths within our DTP and integrates research across multiple organisations and our state-of-the-art imaging facilities. Stem cell biology is a major cross-disciplinary research theme that brings together researchers across disciplines spanning from developmental biology, engineering, medicinal chemistry and mathematical modelling. Extensive collaborations in the cell biology of extracellular vesicles (EVs) and exosomes have been established through ‘Oxosome: The Oxford Extracellular Vesicle Group’ including research on basic mechanisms controlling EV biogenesis, secretion and signalling, EVs in the immune system and inter-organism signalling in insects and parasites. We have extensive expertise in chromatin and RNA biology and the dynamic regulation of genetic/epigenetic information in the form of DNA and RNA, along with expertise in cell organelles and cell signalling.