Man researching plastic at computer at desk in lab coat

The Centre for Enzyme Innovation

Explore how our pioneering research is helping to solve one of the planet's most-pressing environmental problems

At the Centre for Enzyme Innovation, we're researching solutions to some of the most pressing global environmental problems. We're learning from the natural world – working to deliver transformative enzyme-enabled solutions for circular recycling of plastics. 

Our research

Our research is divided into 3 phases:

  • Discover – This phase involves finding new enzymes from the environment that break down plastics.
  • Engineer – This phase involves two key stages. The first involves developing efficient and stable enzymes to break down plastics and the second involves developing control systems for efficient enzyme production and yield.
  • Deploy – This phase involves developing the conditions and processes essential to achieving production and operation of the engineered enzymes at an industrially relevant scale.
Watch Professor John McGeehan present his plastic-eating enzyme research

Professor John McGeehan, Professor of Structural Biology, presented his research into PETase, an enzyme found to break down plastics, at EmTech Hong Kong. Watch the video to discover more about this research. 

Funding

Our researchers from the Centre for Enzyme Innovation receive funding from external sources, including the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the National Environment Research Council (NERC), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the European Commission, Innovate UK, Diamond Light Source, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), the U.S. Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and Johnson Matthey.

Members

Our researchers have expertise spanning the full breadth of the Discover, Engineer and Deploy activities:

Discover

  • Professor Simon Cragg - Professor of Marine Zoology. Simon is recognised for leading international networks and publications on the discovery of new enzyme systems through the advanced understanding of unusual organisms adapted to niche environments, particularly marine. 
  • Dr Joy Watts - Reader in Environmental Microbiology and visiting Associate Professor at the University of Maryland, US. Joy is recognised for her research into microbial diversity, specifically targeting deconstruction of solid polymer substrates for industrial applications. 
  • Dr Sam Robson - Senior Research Fellow in Bioinformatics. Sam has successfully built a bioinformatics research group at the University of Portsmouth. He uses powerful techniques such as high-throughput sequencing, and has developed robust pipelines and computational architecture for transcriptomic data analysis.  

Engineer 

  • Professor John McGeehan - Professor of Structural Biology. John is renowned for his recent work solving the structure and improving the function of an enzyme (PETase) which can break down some of our most commonly polluting plastics. 
  • Dr Andy Pickford - Reader in Molecular Biophysics and Associate Head (Research) for the School of Biological Sciences. Andy's research applies advanced biophysical techniques to characterise enzyme structure and function, with a particular focus on elucidating the molecular mechanisms involved in degrading highly structured polymeric substrates.
  • Dr Paul Cox - Principal Lecturer in Computational Chemistry. Paul is recognised for his molecular modelling research which spans a wide range of chemical and biological applications. 
  • Professor Anastasia Callaghan - Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics. Anastasia has patented an innovative high-throughput platform technology which offers a distinctive and unparalleled capability to optimise the steps that regulate and control enzyme production.

Deploy

  • Dr Pattanathu Rahman - Senior Lecturer in Microbial Biotechnology and visiting Professor at Siksha 'O' Anusandhan (SOA) University, India. Pattanathu is a recognised specialist in bio-product and bioprocesses development. 

Collaborators and partners

  • Montana State University Geobiology Laboratory
  • US Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
  • Diamond Light Source
  • GlaxoSmithKline

Current vacancies at the Centre for Enzyme Innovation

Applications for our 4-year Senior Research Fellowship, 'Characterisation and engineering of plastic-degrading enzymes for the circular economy', have now closed.

New positions at the CEI will be posted here during the upcoming year.

Fully-funded PhD projects

If you want to make your own contribution to the important work we're doing, our fully-funded PhD projects are the perfect opportunity. Explore our projects, find out more about the research ahead, and start your application today.

PhD Projects

Applications are invited for a fully-funded three year PhD studentship to commence in October 2019

Supervisors: Prof. John McGeehan, Dr Andy Pickford and Dr Gregg Beckham

This fully-funded studentship is supported as part of an exciting joint venture between the University of Portsmouth and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and benefits from the recent award of substantial international funding. There will be the opportunity to undertake a portion of research training at NREL.

This project brings together expertise within the Centre for Enzyme Innovation with the common goal of addressing one of our most imminent global challenges for the bioeconomy, the generation of sustainable fuels, chemicals and materials. We aim to understand and improve biological catalysis for the deconstruction of lignin biomass and its conversion to high-value products. It draws on parallel research projects currently running in our laboratories on the depolymerisation of natural polymers such as cellulose and synthetic polymers such a plastics.

View this project.

Applications are invited for a fully-funded three year PhD studentship to commence in October 2019

Supervisors: Dr Andy Pickford, Prof. John McGeehan and Dr Gregg Beckham

This fully-funded studentship is supported as part of an exciting joint venture between the University of Portsmouth and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and benefits from the recent award of substantial international funding. There will be the opportunity to undertake a portion of research training at NREL.

This project brings together expertise within the Centre for Enzyme Innovation with the common goal of addressing one of our most imminent global challenges, plastic pollution. Everyday plastics such as poly(ethylene terephthalate), or PET, are highly versatile but are accumulating in the environment at a staggering rate as discarded packaging and textiles.

View this project.

Applications are invited for a fully-funded three year PhD studentship to commence in October 2019

Supervisors: Prof. Anastasia Callaghan, Dr Darren Gowers and Dr Garry Scarlett

This fully-funded studentship is supported as part of the University of Portsmouth’s investment to grow its newly developed Centre for Enzyme innovation. The Centre focuses on the discovery, engineering and deployment of enzymes with potential application to the circular economy. University funding will be made available to offer extensions into a 4th year where this will maximise scientific output and boost research careers. 

This project will utilise our patented high-throughput array platform technology to support discovery, optimisation and biodesign of the molecular switch components of gene expression systems. The regulation of gene expression, particularly within the context of applied enzymatic systems, is of critical importance.

View this project.

Competition-funded PhD Projects

If you want to make your own contribution to the important work we're doing, our competition-funded PhD projects are the perfect opportunity. Explore our projects, find out more about the research ahead, and start your application today.

PhD Projects

Applications are invited for a competition-funded three year PhD studentship to commence in October 2019

Supervisors: Dr Pattanathu Rahman, Dr Claudio Angione (Teesside University), and Dr Sam Robson

Lignin-derived aromatic carbon sources can be metabolised by P. putida using oxidative catabolic pathways. One of these pathways, namely the β-ketoadipate pathway, has been recently integrated into the P. putida metabolic network. Due to the large size of the metabolic network, and the vast array of possible growth medium composition, the metabolic capabilities of P. putida growth on lignin-derived growth media, and their potential for rhamnolipids biosynthesis can be fully investigated only with multi-omics modelling, statistical, metabolic and biosynthetic engineering approaches. This project will use mathematical techniques and model annotation to constrain the allowable flux rate for the enzymes catalyzing each step in the genome-scale metabolic network, and design and apply machine learning and multi-level optimisation algorithms to predict the conditions that are optimally using lignin-derived carbon sources and show potential for optimal rhamnolipid biosynthesis.

View this project.

Applications are invited for a competition-funded three year PhD studentship to commence in October 2019

Supervisors: Prof. Simon Cragg, Dr. Joy Watts, Dr Sam Robson and Prof Dan Distel (Ocean Genome Legacy and Northeastern University USA)

This competition-funded studentship is supported as part of the University of Portsmouth’s investment to grow its newly developed Centre for Enzyme innovation, which focuses on the discovery, engineering and deployment of enzymes with potential application to the circular economy.

This project will build upon the research at the Centre for Enzyme Innovation (in collaboration with the Universities of York and Cambridge) into how the highly recalcitrant lignocellulose complex is broken down by specialist wood feeders.

View this project.

Contact us

Director:

Professor John McGeehan

Operations Director:

Dr Andy Pickford

If you'd like to get in touch with us, please email cei@port.ac.uk or call us on +44(0)23 9284 7011

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