Department of Biosciences Durham University
Supervisors: Dr John Bothwell and Dr Gary Caldwell
I graduated from University of Birmingham with a BSc. in Biological Science, and later a MSc. in Molecular Biotechnology. In my research project I worked with the sulfidogenic bacteria Desulfovibrio desulfuricans to optimise a novel, biogenic and cheap method for making fluorescent nanoparticles that could be used to boost the photosynthetic output of economically important algae (grown for food and/or fuel). Before being awarded my DTP studentship, I worked for two and half years as a research scientist at a medical device company in Birmingham. My role here was to develop new immunoassays for the diagnosis and monitoring of blood cancers and immune disorders.
Project Title: Developing Novel Biocatalysts for Macroalgal Biomass Improvement
In our lab we propose the use of seaweed (or ‘macroalgae’) as a biomass source for biofuel production. They are fast growing, carbohydrate rich and have simple growth requirements – therefore are an ideal feedstock for biorefinery systems. As marine organisms they do not compete for land, and they do not (typically) comprise a major part of the European diet – as such they evade the ‘food vs. fuel’ and land use debates that makes the cultivation of ‘first generation’ bioenergy crops controversial. However, whilst we been able to domesticate and cultivate land crops for thousands of years, our ability to exploit seaweed as a resource is currently limited.
In my project I work with the green seaweed Ulva, which comprises of the sea lettuces and gut weeds found along the coastlines of the British Isles. Ulva biomass has an abundance of carbohydrates (predominately sulphated polysaccharides of the algal cell wall), therefore is an attractive prospect for biorefinery and fermentation into bioethanol. A recent international effort (including participation from our research group) to sequence and publish the Ulva mutabilis genome has recently been completed – making Ulva an ideal model organism for continued macroalgal research. My project aims are to firstly use genetic transformation and gene expression studies to increase our understanding of cell wall biosynthesis pathways in Ulva, and secondly to design economically favourable strains of Ulva that can be cultivated for biofuel production.