Biochemistry, Chemical Biology and Structural Biology

The Biochemistry, Chemical Biology & Structural Biology theme investigates life at the molecular level. We work at multiple levels of complexity that underpin cellular and organismal biology: from the synthesis of bespoke biologically active chemicals, to the dynamics and activity of individual proteins, to the assemblies of the large protein-protein and protein-nucleic acid complexes. Our work is applied to critical real-world problems including synthetic biology, microbial infections, animal development and antibody based diagnostics.

We are experts in a broad range of methods, including synthetic chemistry, enzymology, protein biochemistry, electron cryo-microscopy and X-ray crystallography, high precision mass spectrometry, molecular biology, and high-throughput biology. Our work is being translated through extensive public engagement, spin-out companies, industrial partners, and the Exeter BioEconomy building.

We have strong links with the Cell and Molecular Biology and Development, Plant Biology and Plant-Microbe Interactions, and Microbes and Disease themes.

Recent research highlights

Breakthrough in understanding mitochondria

A study led by Vicki Gold has used cutting-edge electron cryo-microscopy to transform our understanding of mitochondria. In particular, the studies give unique insights into the spatial organization of cytosolic ribosomes on mitochondria, supporting the theory that nuclear‐encoded mitochondrial proteins can be synthesized locally at the mitochondrial outer membrane.

Gold VA et al. (2017). EMBO Rep. 18(10):1786-1800.

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Hydrogen peroxide protects plants against sun damage

Research conducted by Nick Smirnoff and collaborators at the University of Essex has provided the first characterization of how plants use hydrogen peroxide as a signalling molecule, enabling a cellular response to varying levels of light.

Exposito-Rodriguez M et al. (2017). Nat Commun. 8(1):49.

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Unlocking the synthetic chemistry toolbox

Research led by Nicholas Harmer has provided unrivalled insight into the properties of carboxylic acid reductase enzymes (CARs), defining the specifications for their use as a biocatalyst and paving the way for their application in synthetic chemistry.

Finnigan W et al. (2017). ChemCatChem. 9(6):1005-1017.

Structural biology sheds light on human evolutionary history

In collaboration with research teams in Israel and Germany, Michail Isupov has shed light on human evolutionary history through structural studies of SRGAP family proteins that play a role in neuronal development.

Sporny M et al. (2017). Mol Biol Evol. 34(6):1463-1478.