Enzyme catalysts are central to life and to delivery of the bioeconomy. They are essential components in the new science of 'synthetic biology', offering new routes to biofuels, bulk and commodity chemicals and novel therapeutics. Despite this, our ability to create new enzymes through rational engineering is limited, which is a consequence of our poor understanding of mechanism and quantitative appreciation of the 'catalytic effect'. We are interested in gaining deeper understanding of catalysis and using this information to drive new applications in synthetic biology and metabolic engineering. We focus on fundamental studies of enzyme mechanism, developing 'sharper' tools to analyse mechanisms across a wide range of timescales (femtoseconds to seconds). This involves both classical and quantum mechanical appreciation of the underlying chemistry. We then translate this knowledge into applications, e.g. in industrial biotechnology (chemicals manufacture), or development of potent inhibitors of enzyme function (drug discovery). Our work is highly interdisciplinary and we have broad interests captured by the descriptors: quantum biology; isotope effects; enzyme chemistry; laser spectroscopy; fast reactions methods; structural and synthetic biology; kinetics and inhibition; enzyme evolution and pathway engineering; biocatalysis and biomanufacture.
Nigel is Director of the UK Future Biomanufacturing Research Hub funded by EPSRC/BBSRC and a Founding Director of the fuels-from-biology company C3 BIOTECH Ltd. He is also Director and PI of the BBSRC/EPSRC funded Synthetic Biology Research Centre 'SYNBIOCHEM'. He was previously Director of the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB) (2010-2019). Under his leadership as MIB Director, the enterprising vision of MIB was recognised by the award of the Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education (2018-20) as 'a leader in the UK’s strategic development of biotechnology and bio-manufacturing, through innovative technologies in partnerships with industry'.
Nigel has an established position in the field of enzyme catalysis, biophysics and biomolecular engineering. He was an EPSRC Established Career Fellowship, is a recipient of the Biochemical Society Colworth Medal, the RSC Charmian Medal, the RSC Rita and John Cornforth Award, the RSC Interdisciplinary Prize and a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award. He has served on several national steering groups, advisory boards and governing bodies. He heads a group of ca 50 researchers. He has published over 440 scientific papers, several patents, and has edited 4 volumes on enzyme chemistry, quantum biology, biocatalysis, synthetic biology and bioengineering. He has held contiguous externally funded research fellowships over 29 years (1988-2017).
Nigel holds a first class degree in Biochemistry, and was awarded a Sambrooke Exhibition and the Robson Prize from the University of London, King's College. He gained his ScD and PhD (as a Benefactors' Scholar) at St John's College, the University of Cambridge. At Cambridge, he was awarded the Henry Humphrey's Research Prize, held a Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 Research Fellowship, a St John's College Research Fellowship and a Royal Society University Research Fellowship. He also held a Fellowship and was Director of Studies at Churchill College, University of Cambridge. In 1995 he moved to the University of Leicester as Royal Society University Research Fellow, where he later became Lister Institute Research Professor of Biochemistry and Professor of Biochemistry. He was appointed Professor at the University of Manchester in 2005, where he held a BBSRC Professorial Research Fellowship and was Associate Dean for Research prior to his appointment as MIB Director. Nigel has been Visiting Professor at Tsinghua University, China and is Visiting Professor at Cardiff University, UK. He is also Adjunct Professor at Beijing University of Chemical Technology, China and Vidyasirimedhi Institute of Science and Technology (VISTEC), Thailand.
Nigel’s group is noted internationally for its contributions to catalysis science, especially in the fields of quantum biology (especially QM tunnelling), dynamics and biocatalysis, mechanistic and synthetic biology, and bio-based chemicals/fuels manufacture. His work is interdisciplinary at the interfaces of chemistry, biology and physics, supported by a genuinely world-leading infrastructure for biophysical chemistry and synthetic biology that he has established in MIB.