Professor Simon J McQueen-Mason
CNAP Director and Chair in Materials Biology

Profile

Career

2014 - present CNAP Director Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP), Department of Biology, University of York 
2001 - 2013 Chair in Materials Biology Centre for Novel Agricultural Products, Department of Biology, University of York 
1994 - 2002 Royal Society University Research Fellow Department of Biology, University of York
1993 - 1994 Post-doctoral Research Assistant The Pennsylvania State University
1993 PhD (Plant Physiology) The Pennsylvania State University
1987 BSc Biology (CNAA) Honours (1st Class) Portsmouth Polytechnic School of Biological Sciences   

Research

Overview

Research encompasses various aspects of plant cell wall biology. The cell wall plays a key role in the control of plant growth and morphogenesis by regulating the rates of cell expansion through changes in extensibility. Plant cell wall extensibility is under dynamic control and the molecular mechanisms underlying extension are a major research interest. Expansins are key proteins that regulate cell wall extensibility and we study these proteins at the level of biochemistry and molecular genetics. The cell wall is a complex fibre composite material composed of a range of different polysaccharides. We study the contribution of different matrix polysaccharides to cell wall extensibility and elasticity, as well as the genes and enzymes involved in their biosynthesis.

Plant biomass is one of the greatest reserves of fixed carbon on the planet, is viewed as a potential replacement for fossil fuels, and is largely composed of cell walls. We are using our knowledge of cell walls to advance the development of second generation liquid biofuels from plant biomass in three distinct areas. Firstly, we are coordinating a large international project, which aims to optimise plant cell walls for biofuel applications by making them more readily converted into fermentable sugars for alcohol production. Secondly, we have initiated a major programme for the discovery of novel enzymes for converting plant biomass into fermentable sugars. Finally, we are investigating the production of liquid biofuels from plant biomass from municipal waste.

Current projects

  • New tools for the realization of cost-effective liquid biofuels from plant biomass. (Funding body: BBSRC)
  • Cell wall lignin programme: Manipulating lignin to improve biofuel conversion of plant biomass. (Funding body: BBSRC)
  • Establishment of an aspergillus-based production system for the biorefinery industry.(Funding body: BBSRC)
  • Multipurpose hemp for industrial bioproducts and biomass. (Funding body: EU)
  • SUNLIBB: Sustainable liquid Biofuels from Biomass Biorefining. (Funding body: EU)
  • Targeted analysis of lignocellulolytic secretomes-a new approach to enzyme discovery. (Funding body: BBSRC)

Research group(s)

StatusNameProjects
Research Team Leader Dr. Leonardo Gomez

Improving plant cell walls for use as a renewable industrial feedstock.

SUNLIBB Project Manager Dr. Veronica Ongaro SUNLIBB research. 
Post doctoral fellow Dr. Marcelo Kern New tools for the realization of cost-effective liquid biofuels from plant biomass.
Post doctoral fellow Dr. Katrin Besser New tools for the realization of cost-effective liquid biofuels from plant biomass.
Post doctoral fellow Dr. Joe Bennett Discovery of novel proteins for applications in the food industry and the area of food security. 
Post doctoral fellow Dr. Alexandra Lanot Multihemp: Multipurpose hemp for industrial bioproducts and biomass. 
PhD student Caragh Whitehead Improving plant biomass for the production of sustainable biofuels.
PhD Student William Ebboral New tools for the realization of cost-effective liquid biofuels from plant biomass.
PhD student Poppy Marriott Improving plant cell walls for use as a renewable industrial feedstock. 
PhD student David Glew Validating the sustainability of biorenewables. 
Technician Dr Clare Steele-King New tools for the realization of cost-effective liquid biofuels from plant biomass.
Technician Rachael Simister Manipulating lignin to improve biofuel conversion of plant biomass.
Technician Luisa Elias New tools for the realization of cost-effective liquid biofuels from plant biomass.
Technician David Vaughan New tools for the realization of cost-effective liquid biofuels from plant biomass. 
Technician Dr.Susannah Bird Targeted analysis of lignocellulolytic secretomes-a new approach to enzyme discovery.  
Research Administrator Julia Crawford  

Available PhD research projects

Molecular Genetics of Silica Biology in Plants (2014-15)

All plants obtain silicon during normal growth, and accumulate it to different levels depending on species and environment. Si has been shown to have benefits for crop productivity and pathogen defence, and the importance of Si varies between species, with some crops such as rice being highly dependent on this element for normal growth and productivity, and others having little dependence. As well as having agricultural importance, Si can be a confounding factor in a number of industrial applications of plant biomass. For example, cereal straw Si content can render it unsuitable for combustion and co-firing for power generation, and also impairs the production of full value during biorefining. Despite the impacts of Si in agriculture and bioenergy and biorefining, knowledge of Si biology in plants and the regulation of Si accumulation is not well understood. We have been studying Si accumulation in the model grass Brachypodium distachyon and identified a number of mutants with altered acquisition. This project will involve identifying the underlying gene mutations responsible for altered Si and studying the mutant plants to understand the biology of Si in these plants.

Professor Simon J McQueen-Mason

Contact details

Prof. Simon J McQueen-Mason
CNAP Director and Chair in Materials Biology
Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP), Department of Biology
University of York
York
YO10 5DD

Tel: 01904 328775

http://www.cnap.org.uk/