Breakthrough in understanding mitochondria

Ribosomes imaged on the surface of mitochondria by cryo-electron microscopy.

Hydrogen peroxide protects plants against sun damage

Chloroplasts (red) associated with a nucleus. The nucleus appears green due to the fluorescent hydrogen peroxide sensing protein.

Calcium may play a role in Parkinson's disease

Biochem & Structural biology highlight image

Calcium influences the behaviour of α-synuclein, a protein strongly implicated in Parkinson's disease.

Biochemistry, Chemical Biology and Structural Biology

Our research focus

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 DevelopmentPlant Biology and Plant-Microbe Interactions, and Microbes and Disease themes.

Recent research highlights

Calcium may play a role in the development of Parkinson's disease

The protein alpha-synuclein is strongly implicated in Parkinson’s disease. Jonathan Phillips and a team of international collaborators have shown that alpha-synuclein directly binds to calcium and subsequently relocates within the neuron. This is the first time we’ve seen that calcium influences the way this molecule behaves, a phenomenon that may be important for its (currently undefined) natural function and perhaps also in how it influences Parkinson's disease.

Lautenschläger J et al. (2018). Nat. Commun. 9(1):712.

Structural and mechanistic insight into targeting of a bacterial effector

The intracellular pathogen Legionella pneumophila encodes RidL to hijack the host scaffold protein VPS29, a component of retromer and retriever complexes that are critical for endosomal cargo recycling. An international research collaboration including Michail Isupov has solved the crystal structure of RidL in complex with the human VPS29-VPS35 retromer subcomplex, providing structural and mechanistic evidence into how RidL is targeted to endosomal membranes.

Romano-Moreno M et al. (2017). PNAS 114(52):E11151-E11160.

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. | Read more here.

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. | Read more here.