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. 

We were recently awarded £5.8 million from the Research England Expanding Excellence Fund. Coupled with significant investment by the University, this major funding will speed up our progress towards finding a solution to one of the world’s greatest environmental challenges – plastic waste.

Research England

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:

    • Enzyme activity, which involves developing efficient and stable enzymes to break down plastics
    • Enzyme production, which includes developing molecular 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.
Our unique, end-to-end, integrated and transformative research pipeline
The Centre for Enzyme Innovations' research pipeline
Enzyme-enabled solution for circular recycling of plastic
The Centre for Enzyme Innovation PET process
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. 


In June 2019, we received £5.8 million through the Government’s modern Industrial Strategy, from the Research England Expanding Excellence Fund.

Our researchers from the Centre for Enzyme Innovation also 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.


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


  • 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 - Enzyme Activity

  • 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. 

Engineer - Enzyme Production

  • Professor Anastasia Callaghan - Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics. Anastasia has patented a high-throughput array technology with applications in the field of synthetic biology. Exploiting this capability to develop versatile and programmable RNA regulators is key to the creation of precise and predictable enzyme production circuits, important for commercial viability.


  • 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

Contact us

Director: Professor John McGeehan

Operations Director: Dr Andy Pickford

Innovation Fellow: Rory Miles

If you'd like to get in touch with us, please email or call us on +44(0)23 9284 2023

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