Our strengths in environmental microbiology and microbial evolution are complemented with expertise in microbial DNA metabolism and synthetic biology, allowing us to develop projects pertinent to industrial biotechnology and bioenergy. 

Our research in fundamental and applied disease-related mechanistic microbiology has resulted both in novel therapeutic drug leads and in cancer gene therapy approaches.‌


Work within the microbiology research focus has impact across all three grand challenges but particularly on human health and disease as well as environmental change.  These are just a few examples

Sustainable food
and fuel
and disease

remediation of explosives

Bioremediation of explosives

treating Prostate cancer

Targeting prostate cancer with viruses


Therapeutics for treating sleeping sickness

Examples of Microbiology research

New light on DNA copying process: Peter McGlynn, an Anniversary Professor in the University’s Department of Biology, led a team of researchers who have discovered that the protein machines that copy DNA in a model organism pause frequently during this copying process, creating the potential for dangerous mutations to develop.

Targets for aphid-specific insecticides: aphids use a symbiont, Buchnera, that lives inside specialised bacteriocyte cells in the insect gut to supplement their diet of sugary sap.  Using computational modelling of the bacteriocyte metabolism, York researchers led by Gavin Thomas showed that it is the insect cells rather than the bacteria that recycle nitrogen to build essential amino acids, thus providing potential targets for aphid-specific pesticides.

TRAP transporters in Vibrio cholerae: The bacterium Vibrio cholerae colonises the intestine and causes a diarrhoea that can be fatal. Important to its survival is harvesting of sialic acid present on the surface of gut cells.  York researchers demonstrated that the pathogen uses a TRAP transporter to scavenge and take up sialic acid, a discovery that may enable design of drugs to treat V. cholerae infections.‌

Academic staff associated with Microbiology

Dr Daniela Barillà, Senior Lecturer: the molecular mechanisms and dynamics of prokaryotic DNA segregation, partition cassettes in bacteria and archaea.

Professor Michael Brockhurst, Anniversary Chair: the effects of rapid contemporary evolution in microbes.

Professor Neil C Bruce, Professor of Biotechnology: microbial metabolism; biocatalysis and environmental biotechnology; understanding how microorganisms utilise xenobiotic compounds for growth.

Dr James Chong, Senior Lecturer: DNA replication and cellular proliferation in methanogenic archaea; molecular mechanisms of replicative helicases; microbial population dynamics in anaerobic digestion.

Dr Julia Ferrari, Lecturer: how symbionts affect their hosts’ ecology; the interaction and co-evolution of multiple partners in these systems.

Professor Alastair H Fitter, CBE, FRS: plant and microbial behaviour in a changing world; below ground ecology and functional ecology of roots and mycorrhizal symbioses; carbon cycling in soil especially in relation to mycorrhizas.

Dr Thorunn Helgason, Lecturer: the role of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi as a conduit for mineral nutrients between plants and soil. 

Dr Angela Hodge, Reader: plant-soil-microbe interactions; mycorrhizal fungi and nutrient cycling in soil systems using mechanistic and ecological approaches.

Professor Norman J Maitland, Director of the YCR Cancer Research Unit: novel biotherapies for prostate cancer based on targeted and stealthed viral vectors; engineering of tumour-specific viruses (oncolytics).

Fabiola Martin, Senior Clinical Lecturer in HIV medicine: prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV; the natural history and management of HTLV-1 associated myelopathy.

Professor Peter McGlynn, Anniversary Chair: the causes and consequences of malfunctions in the complex protein machines that copy DNA; the repair of broken DNA replication machines to minimise corruption of the genetic code.

Dr James W B Moir, Reader: understanding the organisation and regulation of metabolic processes (particularly respiration) in pathogenic Neisseria species; how microbial metabolism influences the function of microbial communities in the human body.

Professor Jennifer R Potts, Professor of Molecular Biophysics: mechanisms of host-pathogen interactions that play an important role in the maintenance and dissemination of infection.

Professor Deborah F Smith, OBE: novel therapeutic targets against the causative agents of human leishmaniasis; genetic, cellular and biochemical studies of Trypanosoma brucei, the causative agent of African sleeping sickness.

Professor Maggie Smith: adaptations of phages that infect the antibiotic-producing, mycelial bacteria, Streptomyces; phage integrases as tools for DNA integration and assembly in microbes, plants and animals; evolution of phage genomes and the diversity of phage defence systems in bacteria.

Dr Gavin H Thomas, Senior Lecturer: mechanisms used by pathogenic bacteria to utilise host-derived sialic acid; constraint-based modelling of obligate symbiosis between bacteria and insect hosts such as Buchnera aphidicola and aphids.

Dr Marjan van der Woude, Senior Lecturer: bacterial adaptions to exploit local environmental conditions; heritable (epigenetic) gene regulation via DNA methylation and phase variation; the relevance of these processes to bacterial pathogenesis and biofilm formation.

Professor J Peter W Young: population genetics, molecular phylogeny and comparative genomics of rhizobia and other bacteria; molecular ecology and diversity of mycorrhizal fungi.

Recent news


Understanding the personalities of bacteria

 Neisseria meningitides

New insights into why adolescents carry meningitis-causing bacteria

 Aureus diagram

How bacteria exploit proteins to trigger potentially lethal infections

Examples of high profile publications

A large genomic island allows Neisseria meningitidisto utilize propionic acid, with implications for colonization of the human nasapharynx.  Moir et al.  2014 Mol Biol

The mechanism of patellamide macrocyclization revealed by the characterization of the PatG macrocyclase domain. Koehnke et al. 2012, Nature Struct Mol Biol

Chromosome segregation in Archaea mediated by a hybrid DNA partition machine. Kalliomaa-Sanford et al. 2012, PNAS

Staphylococcal biofilm-forming protein has a contiguous rod-like structure. Gruszka et al. 2012, PNAS

Gated rotation mechanism of site-specific recombination by ϕC31 integrase. Olorunniji et al. 2012, PNAS

N-myristoyltransferase inhibitors as new leads to treat sleeping sickness. Frearson et al. 2010, Nature

Antagonistic coevolution accelerates molecular evolution. Paterson et al. 2010, Nature