Professor Neil C Bruce
CNAP Chair in Biotechnology




2002- Professor of Biotechnology Department of Biology, University of York
2001 - 2002  Reader in Biotechnology University of Cambridge
1991 - 2002 Staff Fellow, Tutor and Director of Studies for Natural Sciences (Biological) Trinity Hall, Cambridge
1990 - 2001 University Lecturer Institute of Biotechnology, University of Cambridge
1988 - 1991 Research Fellow Wolfson College, Cambridge
1987 PhD University of Kent
1986 - 1990 Postdoctoral Research Associate Institute of Biotechnology, University of Cambridge
1983 BSc Applied Biology Hatfield Polytechnic

Departmental roles

 Chair of Departmental Research Committee



The major research themes of our laboratory are microbial metabolism, biocatalysis and environmental biotechnology. A primary goal is to understand how microorganisms have adapted to utilise xenobiotic compounds as carbon and nitrogen sources for growth. The enzymes mediating these pathways often have potential commercial applications as recognition components in biosensors, as biocatalysts for synthetic chemistry, for the production of biofuels and for the bioremediation of soil and ground water. We are now engaged in extensive structural analysis of a number of these enzymes using X-ray crystallography. Work is also focusing on generating carefully designed mutant forms of a number of these enzymes to understand their catalytic mechanisms. A principal theme of our research is the biodegradation, biotransformation and phytoremediation of explosives.


We discovered a novel cytochrome P450 system termed XplA/B from Rhodococcus rhodochrous (11Y) that degrades the high explosive RDX. As a model system for RDX phytoremediation, Arabidopsis expressing XplA/B were grown in RDX contaminated soil and found to remove and degrade the explosive from the soil. Our work suggests that expressing XPlA/B in landscape plants may provide a suitable remediation strategy for explosive contaminated sites.


  • Sustainable range management of RDX and TNT by phytoremediation with engineered plants (Funding body: SERDP)
  • New tools for the realisation of cost-effective liquid biofuels from plant biomass (joint with Simon McQueen-Mason) (Funding body: BBSRC)
  • Targeted analysis of microbial lignocellulolytic secretomes - a new approach to enzyme discovery. biomass (Funding body: Bilateral BBSRC-FAPESP)
  • Exposing explosives: novel synthetic gene circuits for explosive detection via innovative waveguide sensing (Funding body: BBSRC)
  • Studying Effect of Dutasteride on plant growth and development using Arabidopsis.  (Funded by Brunel University).
  • Development of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes for the Chemical Manufacturing Industries (funded body: EU FP7 Marie Curie ITN)
  • Phytocat (Funding body: G8 EPSRC) JC/NCB
  • BBSRC RICEFUELS Engineering Enzymes, bacteria and bioconversion processes for advanced biofuels from waste grain straw
  • BBSRC Marine Wood Borer Enzyme Programme (Start date 01 04 14)

Research group(s)


Senior Research Associate  Liz Rylott ESTCP - Phytoremediation of explosives from contaminated soil by transgenic grass
Research Technician Laura Faas Tailoring the in planta synthesis of specific NPs for production of high-value catalysts
PhD student Nicola Oates

Degradation of lignocellulose by Graphium sp.

PhD student Lazaina Ahmad Binding characterisation of Arabidopsis glutatjione transferases
PhD student Zakuan Shamsul Harumain Mechanisms of platinum group metal uptake and tolerance in plants
PhD student Daniel Leadbeater Bioprospecting lignocellulolytic enzymes from salt marsh ecosystems
PhD student Rachael Evans Evolving microbial communities for biofuel production
PhD student Giovanna Pesante Physiology and enzymology of lignocellulose digestion in the shipworm Lyrodus pedicellatus
PhD student Juliana Sanchez Discovery of novel enzymes with lignocellulosic activity from a salt marsh environment
Research Associate Federico Sabbadin BBSRC - Learning from marine wood borers; enzymes and mechanisms of lignocellulose digestion
Research Associate Katrin Besser BBSRC - Learning from marine wood borers; enzymes and mechanisms of lignocellulose digestion
Research Associate Dr Joe Bennett BBSRC - RICEFUEL Engineering Enzymes, bacteria and bioconversion processes for advances biofuels from waste grain straw
Research Technician Luisa Elias BBSRC - Learning from marine wood borers; enzymes and mechanisms of lignocellulose digestion
Research Administrator Margaret Cafferky Project Administration

Available PhD research projects

Mining composting communities for new lignocellulose mobilising enzymes (2015-16)

From both a fundamental and industrial biotech viewpoint understanding the deconstruction of lignocellulose in soil and compost is of central importance. In the natural environments microbial communities can efficiently degrade or modify lignin to enable the effective enzymatic hydrolysis of the polysaccharides present in plant cell walls. Globally, this is important for cycling carbon in the environment and as potential sources of biocatalysts for efforts at converting plant biomass into biofuels and commodity chemicals. The objectives of this project are to use metatranscriptomics and proteomics to determine gene- and protein-centred details to determine new mechanisms and improved methods of lignocellulose deconstruction in mixed microbial communities from composting cereal straw. The project will use proteomics analysis to interrogate the secretome of microbial communities in composting cereal straw and metatranscriptomics will be used to explore the expression of genes associated with lignocellulose digestion. To identify new linocellulose degrading enzymes, the peptide sequences from the proteomics analysis will be used to probe the metatranscriptomic library for full and partial coding sequences. These coding sequences will be cloned, expressed and the recombinant proteins characterised.

Co-directors:Simon McQueen-Mason

Professor Neil Bruce 218x218

Contact details

Neil C Bruce
Professor of Biotechnology
CNAP, Department of Biology (B/M219)
University of York
Wentworth Way
YO10 5DD, UK

Tel: 01904 328777