Biochemistry And Biophysics

Biochemistry and Biophysics

Major areas of focus are molecular microbiology related to infection and multi-drug resistance, plant biochemistry and biotechnology, and the replication, regulation and organisation of nucleic acids.

This focus brings together interdisciplinary expertise to address key biological questions across the scale range from atom to organism using single molecule fluorescence and confocal microscopy, structural biology (NMR spectroscopy and X-ray crystallography), and a variety of advanced biophysical, biochemical and cellular techniques.


Research in biochemistry and biophysics uses cutting edge molecular and biophysical techniques to address key challenges relevant to health and disease and biotechnology. Below are examples of how biochemistry and biophysics research has the potential to benefit society.

Impacting on health and disease

Bacterial antibiotic resistance and medical device infection

Mechanisms Of Antibiotic Resistance

Bacteria are able to form colonies – called biofilms – on implanted devices, which can lead to endocarditis, a bacterial infection of the heart. Biofilms help the bacteria to avoid  the immune system and antibiotics.  Prof. Jennifer Potts discovered unusual repetitive proteins that connect bacteria in biofilms. This discovery can lead to new treatments or ways to prevent biofilms forming.
Sustainable food and fuel

Teaching bacteria to eat grass

Teaching bacteria to eat grass

The lignocellulosic components of plants have great potential to provide renewable feedstocks that can be fermented by bacteria to make high value chemicals and biofuels. Using methods of biochemistry and biophysics as well as microbiology and structural biology, the Thomas group are characterising the transporters and enzymes needed to create synthetic strains of bacteria that can degrade lignocellulose more efficiently and the Bruce group are discovering novel enzymes from composting that could also help in this process.

Examples of Biochemistry and Biophysics projects

DNA replication and genome stability. Each time a cell divides its genetic material must be copied accurately since mistakes can cause potentially life-threatening mutations. Using a combination of cutting-edge single-molecule biophysics, the Leake group is beginning to unravel the intricate mechanisms involved in genome stability. The McGlynn group exploits biochemistry, genetics and structural biology to understand how mistakes can arise during the DNA copying process.

Targeting bacterial multidrug resistance - Multidrug resistance is a global burden on human health worldwide. It is often due to low copy number plasmids that harbour genes encoding resistance to multiple antibiotics. Investigating the biochemical mechanisms responsible for the stability and segregation of these insidious genetic elements will reveal novel targets that may be used to devise new therapeutic options.

Academic staff associated with Biochemistry and Biophysics

Dr Daniela Barillà, Reader: the molecular mechanisms and dynamics of procaryotic DNA segregation and multi drug resistance.

Dr Christoph Baumann, Lecturer: how topological changes in DNA are driven by the action of motor proteins, and how the resulting topological changes can directly modulate processes such as transcription.

Professor Dianna J Bowles, OBE, Emeritus: how plants respond and adapt to environmental stresses including both abiotic, such as physical injury, and biotic, such as pathogen challenge.

Professor Neil C Bruce, Professor of Biotechnology: Metabolism of xenobotic compounds, particularly explosives and engineering plants for phytoremediation applications.

Dr Leo S D Caves, Senior Lecturer: simulation of complex biosystems, e.g. biomolecular self-assembly processes and emergent properties of artificial chemistries.

Dr James Chong, Senior Lecturer: understanding DNA replication and cellular proliferation using methanogenic archaea as a model system.

Dr Dawn Coverley, Reader: investigating the temporal and spatial organisation of DNA replication to identify and study new factors that might serve as targets in cancer therapy or as markers of cell proliferation potential.

Dr Gareth J O Evans, Senior Lecturer: the regulation of neuronal function by protein phosphorylation.

Professor Ian A Graham, Head of Department and Weston Chair of Biochemical Genetics: regulation of processes associated with seed germination and discovering and improving the production of high value chemicals in plants.

Professor George L Kellett, Emeritus: the regulation of intestinal nutrient absorption.

Dr Frans Maathuis, Reader: plant nutrition and stress in particular the molecular mechanisms of ion uptake and translocation.

Professor Mark Leake, Anniversary Chair of Biological Physics: developing and applying novel forms of optical microscopy to investigate complex biological processes at the level of single molecules.

Dr Benjamin Lichman, Lecturer: the molecular and evolutionary origins of plant specialised metabolism.

Professor Peter McGlynn, Anniversary Chair: determining  the causes and consequences of breakdowns of the complex protein machines that copy DNA and how they are repaired.

Dr Michael Plevin , Lecturer: inter- and intra-molecular interactions, their role in the structure and function of disease-related proteins, and molecular and chemical strategies for their characterisation and manipulation.

Professor Jennifer R Potts, Chair of Molecular Biophysics: structural biology of staphylococcal infections and biofilm formation.

Professor Deborah F Smith, OBE: understanding how kinetoplastid parasites invade and adapt to their hosts for the development of new therapeutics.

Professor John Sparrow, Emeritus: muscle differentiation, disease and regulation of contraction using the Drosophila flight and jump muscles as model systems.

Dr Gavin H Thomas, Senior Lecturer: the mechanisms used by different bacteria, mainly human pathogens, to utilise the important host-derived molecule sialic acid.

Professor Reidun Twarock: the symmetries of viruses and their implications for virus architecture.

Dr Daniel Ungar, Senior lecturer: characterising the molecular mechanisms of vesicle targeting and its influence on glycosylation.

Professor Robert White, Chair of Biochemistry: the molecular mechanisms responsible for the regulation of transcription of tRNAs and its functional consequences.

 Recent news


All change for bacterial outer membrane proteins

Aureus diagram

How bacteria exploit proteins to trigger potentially lethal infections

Research Centres linked to Biochemistry and Biophysics

Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) 

York Biomedical Research Institute

Examples of high profile publications

The nuclear matrix protein Ciz1 facilitates localization of Xist RNA to the inactive X-chromosome territory. Ridings-Figueroa et al. 2017 Genes Dev

Genomic RNA folding mediates assembly of human parechovirus. Shakeel et al. 2017 Nature Communications

Artemisia annua mutant impaired in artemisinin synthesis demonstrates importance of nonenzymatic conversion in terpenoid metabolism. Czechowski et al. 2016 PNAS

Structures of archaeal DNA segregation machinery reveal bacterial and eukaryotic linkages.  Barilla, Schumacher et al.  2015 Science

Monodehydroascorbate reductase mediates TNT toxicity in plants. Rylott, Bruce et al.  2015, Science