2020 applicants
Research Group

Protein Structure and Mechanisms of Disease Group

Proteins are key biopolymers, performing a wide variety of functions in the cell, from efficient chemical catalysis and transport of molecules, to transmitting signals or serving a protective function in recognising friend from foe in the immune system.

These diverse functions stem from the intrinsic structural variation and complexity that proteins exhibit. Structural irregularities in proteins can lead to misfunction or gain of abnormal function, that can manifest in cellular damage or disease. Because of this, proteins are principal targets of the vast majority of pharmaceutical drugs.

Understanding the structure-function relationship and cellular roles of proteins is therefore critical for human health, the environment and biotechnology. As the name suggests, the Protein Structure & Mechanisms of Disease group seeks to establish the link between structure and the physiological function of proteins. We approach this from a variety of angles and employ state-of-the-art in silico and in vitro molecular methods, as well as cellular and organismal levels of inquiry.

Correspondingly our research spans the range from individual atoms and isolated molecules to cellular biology approaches including pre-clinical models of cancer and immunology.

Our structural biology division is equipped with crystallisation facility featuring an ARI Gryphon Robotic Protein Crystallography System with a Lipid Cubic Phase extension, as well as a protein-protein interaction facility, which features isothermal calorimetry (ITC), surface plasmon resonance (SPR) machines and SEC-MALS detectors.

We work closely with the other research groups in the School of Life Sciences, with cross-cutting projects in areas including microbial biotechnology, bioremediation and signaling & biosensor proteins in plants.

Collaborations and funding

We are highly active in interdisciplinary and collaborative research programmes with UK and international academic and industrial partners and work closely with the large international research facilities in Europe (ESRF, SLS), US (Lawrence Berkeley National Lab; Brookhaven National Lab; ALS) and Japan (Spring 8, SACLA XFEL).

Our work is supported by a wide range of funders including UKRI (BBSRC, EPSRC, STFC, MRC), The Leverhulme Trust, British Heart Foundation (BHF), Prostate Cancer UK, Pancreatic Cancer UK, the Rosetrees Trust, the US National Institutes of Health, the Wellcome Trust, A*STAR (Singapore), Diamond Light Source and the EU.

Working with business

We offer many ways for you to access our expertise including consultancy, collaborative and commissioned research and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships.

Collectively we have world-leading expertise in advanced biophysical and biochemical methods development to study the function and structure of proteins and their cellular functions. We are well-equipped with facilities for large-scale protein expression, purification and characterisation of prokaryotic and eukaryotic soluble and membrane proteins. Our groups have hands-on expertise in identifying and characterising of potential cellular targets and for initial design and screening of potential drug targets.

These are some of the current and recently completed projects and programmes which are collaborative with and sponsored by industry:

  • Modelling G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) activation (GSK)
  • Development and application of QM/MM calculations for fragment-based drug design (GSK)
  • Novel modifications of Haemoglobin-Based Blood Substitutes for clinical use, in collaboration with PolyTherics Ltd (Part of Abenza plc), funded by the Medical Research Council (Haemo2)
  • Naphthenic acid degradation in oil sands wastewaters (OilPlus Ltd)
  • Optimising a novel therapeutic strategy for the treatment of Prostate Cancer, in collaboration with Imperial College London and the University of Bath. Funded by Janssen Biotech.

Master of Science (MSD) in Biological Sciences

Our research group has several exciting opportunities for research projects towards a Master of Science by Dissertation (MSD) in the School of Life Sciences.

These are one-year postgraduate degrees that typically start in October but other start times can be negotiated with the project supervisor(s) (overseas applicants should allow additional time for visa processing). These opportunities do not come with any funding. Further information on fees and funding is available here.

To start the process, browse our list of titles and supervisors below, then email your CV to the supervisors directly or email the postgraduate administrator Ms Emma Revill (ecrix@essex.ac.uk) to suggest another project within the area of interest of one of our groups or members of staff.

MSD titles and supervisors

"Serial crystallography of industrially important metalloenzymes using synchrotron and XFEL diffraction"”, Dr Mike Hough, Dr Richard Strange, Dr Jonathan Worrall

"Targeting antibiotic resistance provided by efflux pumps in Gram negative bacteria", Dr Vassiliy Bavro

"Structural and Functional Analysis of a Novel Cancer target", Dr Mike Hough, Dr Greg Brooke, Dr Richard Strange

"Structural Movies of Enzyme Function: X-ray driven reactivity in protein micro crystals", Dr Mike Hough, Dr Richard Strange

"Dissecting the role of cell polarity regulation in breast cancer", Dr Metodi Metodiev

"Role of ZFP36L1 in immune cell function and cancer", Dr Raj Thaker

"Molecular signaling pathways in immune cells", Dr Raj Thaker

"Novel copper proteins in ammonia oxidising archaea and their role in production of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide", Dr Mike Hough, Dr Jonathan Worrall and Dr Corinne Whitby

"Structure and Function of cytochrome P460 containing proteins involved in the nitrogen cycle in methanotrophic bacteria: contributions to release of NO and N2O", Dr Mike Hough

"Back to the future - Ancestral reconstruction of enzymes for biofuel production", Dr Jonathan Worrall

"Copper storage in infectious diseases", Dr Jonathan Worrall

"Recombinant expression of human ACE-2:  the cellular receptor of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus responsible for COVID-19", Dr Phil Reeves and Dr Mike Hough

"Understanding the molecular defects arising from mutations in human rhodopsin responsible for Retinitis Pigmentosa", Dr Phil Reeves

Contact us
Dr Dawn Farrar Research Manager