Nigel Scrutton, FRS, FRSC, FRSB

Prof

Personal profile

Biography

Nigel is Director of the EPSRC Future Biomanufacturing Research Hub and the BBSRC funded Synthetic Biology Research Centre 'SYNBIOCHEM'. He is also a Founding Director of the fuels-from-biology company C3 BIOTECH Ltd and its subsidiary company C3 BIOTECH (Maritime and Aerospace) Ltd. 

He is former Director of the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB) (2010-2019), which 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 was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 2020. He is 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 held a number of externally funded research fellowships including an EPSRC Established Career Fellowship, a BBSRC Professorial Research Fellowship, a Lister Institute Fellowship, a Royal Society University Research Fellowship, and a Fellowship of the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851.

Nigel graduated in Biochemistry from the University of London, King's College (1985). He gained his ScD and PhD degrees at St John's College, the University of Cambridge as a Benefactor’s Scholar. After his PhD, he was elected to a Research Fellowship at St John’s where he was also awarded the Henry Humphrey's Research Prize. He later held a Fellowship and was Director of Studies at Churchill College, University of Cambridge.

In 1995 he moved to the University of Leicester initially as Lecturer, then as Reader (1997) and Professor (1999). He was appointed Professor at the University of Manchester in 2005, where he 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 for its contributions to the study of enzyme catalysis, covering quantum tunnelling, mechanistic and structural biology, synthetic biology, and bio-based chemicals/fuels manufacture. His work is interdisciplinary and is supported by a genuinely world-leading infrastructure for biophysical chemistry and synthetic biology that he has established in MIB. 

Research interests

Biological catalysis, synthetic biology and biomolecular engineering.

We use biophysics, structural and chemical biology, computational simulation and enzyme engineering to study mechanism. Publications from the group reflect contributions from across these discipline areas. 

Highlights have included: showing the unexpected importance of hydrogen tunneling mechanisms in enzyme catalysis; the discovery of new biological cofactors; determination of enzyme structures in complex with inhibitors (drugs); determining mechanisms of vitamin B12 and other photoreceptors in light-activated transcriptional regulation and photocatalysis. 

We have engineered enzymes and microbial organisms to biosynthesize fuels (e.g. propane gas) and a wide array of chemicals and materials. 

We have established state-of-the-art infrastructure at Manchester in major research centres. These include: 

SYNBIOCHEM – the Synthetic Biology Research Centre for Fine and Speciality Chemicals;

MCBC - the Manchester Centre for Biophysics and Catalysis, a platform biophysics centre for ultrafast laser UV, fluorescence up-conversion and IR spectroscopy as well as a suite of advanced time-resolved spectoscopies for analysis of enzyme mechanisms. 

Future BRH – the Future Biomanufacturing Research Hub, a national Centre of Excellence in biomanufacturing to work closely with industry to biomanufacture pharmaceuticals, high value chemicals and engineering materials. 

Given the breadth of the work in the group, we have a large research team (about 50 staff) and strong collaborations with specialists in other disciplines (e.g. synthetic chemistry; materials science), both within MIB and external to Manchester.

Overview

Enzymes and photoreceptors offer opportunities to study the chemistry of life. My group investigates the mechanisms of enzymes and photoreceptors. We develop biophysical methods to investigate these mechanisms across a wide range of timescales. Our aim is to capture an appreciation of the underlying chemistry of enzyme and photoreceptor action.  

We then use this information to drive new applications in synthetic biology and metabolic engineering. Areas of interest include industrial biotechnology (chemicals and fuels production) and enzyme inhibitor design (drug discovery). 

Our work is interdisciplinary captured by the descriptors: enzyme chemistry; biophysical methods; structural and synthetic biology; kinetics and inhibition; enzyme evolution; metabolic engineering; biocatalysis; biomanufacture.

Teaching

Chemistry in the Life Sciences: A particular passion is 'putting the chemistry back into biochemistry' and moving away from  'blob-ology', i.e. the more descriptive view of biology. Life isn't about a series of interconnecting squares, triangles and circles in cellular communication networks (as is often depicted in text books and research papers) - its about chemistry. A complete understanding at the molecular level cannot happen without thorough grounding in chemical principles and knowledge of molecular structure, and students need to be comfortable in this space. Mechanistic and physical principles drive biological reactions, cell communication and replication and we cannot hope to understand biology at the systems or molecular levels without an understanding of the underlying key chemical and physical principles. Students must therefore not lose sight of the importance of chemical thinking to gain full appreciation of biological concepts.

Undergraduate: Mechanistic and molecular enzymology; enzyme kinetics and theory; fast reaction methods and spectroscopic studies of proteins; biophysical approaches to studies of protein systems; physical chemistry for biologists. 

Postgraduate: Experimental and theoretical approaches to studies of enzyme systems; structural and mechanistic enzymology; biocatalysis; physical principles underlying enzyme action; time resolved interrogation of enzyme mechanisms using multiple spectroscopies including ultrafast, laser photolysis, rapid mixing and equilibrium perturbation methods. Integration of structural and temporal data to elucidate and re-define enzyme function. Enzyme design/redesign, evolution and synthetic biology applications of enzymes (fuels; industrial chemicals; integrating chemo-biocatalysis).

Outreach: Outreach lectures - 'World in Crisis' on catalysis and exploitation of enzymes in the modern world; 'Fuels of the Future' exploring the impact of next generation biofuels on energy provision; 'Quantum Biology' exploring quantum effects in biological bevahiour. The above lectures have been delivered at both national and local venues e.g. Royal Institution, London; Greater Manchester SciBars etc. 

 

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy
  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Biotechnology
  • Digital Futures
  • Christabel Pankhurst Institute
  • Manchester Institute of Biotechnology

Keywords

  • Enzyme biocatalysts
  • quantum biology
  • quantum tunnelling
  • photochemistry
  • enzyme design
  • directed evolution
  • enzyme mechanisms
  • enzyme structures and dynamics
  • synthetic biology
  • chemicals biosynthesis
  • nanoscale bioengineering
  • biocatalysis
  • metabolic engineering

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