Professor Jennifer R Potts

Head of Department

Chair of Molecular Biophysics



Key research interests

In the early stages of infection, bacteria attach to host tissue. Interactions between host and bacterial proteins are also likely to play an important role in the maintenance and dissemination of infection. One aim of our research is to elucidate mechanisms of host-pathogen interactions. For example, the ability to bind the human protein fibronectin (Fn) is a characteristic that has been demonstrated for a number of pathogens. For Staphylococcus aureus, Fn-binding appears to play a role in infective endocarditis. S. aureus can also form difficult to eradicate aggregates, known as biofilms, on the surfaces of prosthetic devices such as mechanical heart valves. We are studying proteins involved in biofilm formation using techniques such as nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, X-ray crystallography, isothermal titration calorimetry, surface plasmon resonance and multi-angle light scattering.


  • Structure and folding of proteins with identical tandemly arrayed domains. (BBSRC)
  • Investigating protein-mediated staphylococcal biofilm formation (MRC).
  • Structure, function and inhibition of proteins involved in biofilm formation on cardiac devices. (BHF)
  • Molecular mechanism of environmental stress sensing by bacterial zinc-containing anti-sigma factors. (BBSRC)

Research Group

Mrs Judith Hawkhead Senior Research Technician Molecular basis of bacterial biofilm formation

Mr Michael Hodgkinson 

Research Technician Molecular basis of bacterial biofilm formation

Dr Fiona Whelan

Postdoctoral Research Associate Structural and functional studies of bacterial proteins involved in biofilm formation

Ms Lotte Van Beek

PhD Student Structure and function of a bacterial surface protein involved in biofilm formation

Sarah Tindall

PhD Student Bacterial carbohydrate-modifying enzymes

Rachael Cooper

PhD Student Biophysical and structural characterisation of of repetitive bacterial proteins
William Green Coogan PhD Student Structural characterisation of surface proteins from Staphylococcus epidermidis
James Gilburt  Postdoctoral Research Associate Biophysical characterisation of elongated bacterial proteins 
Laura Clark Postdoctoral Research Associate  Characterisation of a Staphylococcus aureus protein involved in biofilm formation

Teaching and Scholarship

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‌As a teacher I try to use my experience in, and enthusiasm for, molecular science to help students learn the fundamentals of a subject and also to become skilled at extending their knowledge through independent research.

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‌As a structural biologist, my lecture material includes the interesting fundamentals of protein structure, how structure relates to function and the methods that can be used to determine the structure of proteins at high resolution. My teaching is inspired by my research, which uses biophysical methods to study proteins involved in bacterial infection. These proteins include those that enable Gram positive bacteria to adhere to human tissues and bacterial proteins and other polymers that enable the development of infections (biofilms) on the surfaces of medical devices.

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‌Subjects could include molecular biology, structural biology and biophysical techniques for studying protein structure and function.  Tutorials are an excellent opportunity for students to ask questions and discuss a subject in more detail. Student preparation for tutorials can include reading, essay writing or the preparation of a more formal short presentation. 

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‌Students taking a project in my lab will be working on a project related to our ongoing research. I offer both primarily lab based and computer based projects. Lab work often includes protein expression, purification and biophysical characterization of a bacterial protein domain. Computer based work could include assignment of heteronuclear nuclear magnetic resonance spectra of a protein domain. Students have many informal and formal opportunities to discuss their project with either their day-to-day supervisor in the lab or the project supervisor. The final year project is an excellent opportunity to experience what it is like to work in a research lab. 


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Contact details

Prof. Jennifer R Potts
Head of Department
Department of Biology, B/K/123
University of York
Heslington, York, YO10 5DD

Tel: 01904 328555