Head of Department: Associate Professor Vernon Coyne
The Department has interests and expertise in diverse areas of biology. The problem of desiccation in plants is being tackled by a combination of physiological and molecular approaches. Plant biotechnology research is focused on developing virus-resistant and drought-tolerant crops, "biopharming" (the expression of pharmaceutically-important proteins in plants)and the molecular basis of nickel hyperaccumulation in plants. Circadian rhythms and their role in plant development and responses, as well as sports performance in humans, are studied. Eukaryotic gene expression projects include the role of chromatin modifications in regulating the rhythms of gene expression and gene expression during neuronal differentiation and stress. In addition, the actions of mammalian hormones and steroid receptors are being investigated with a view to understanding mechanisms, integration of signalling pathways and role in HIV pathogenesis. Research on viral pathogenesis also includes protein structure-function studies of the envelope protein and its role in HIV transmission. Evolutionary biology projects focus on mechanisms that shape both genomic and population-level diversity, as well as evolution of limb development in bats. Molecular virology studies focus on the expression of antigens from viruses in plants and in insect cells for use as human and animal vaccines, on the genetic diversity and molecular biology of single-stranded DNA viruses of plants and animals, and papillomaviruses of primates and humans.Structural studies are being carried out by electron microscopy and X‑ray crystallography on a number of proteins, including glutamine synthetase and members of the nitrilase superfamily, to obtain insights necessary for rational drug and industrial enzyme design. Research in marine biotechnology includes genetic and proteomic studies of the immune response of the abalone (Haliotis midae) and the stress and disease response systems of the commercially important seaweed Gracilaria gracilis. In addition, probiotics are being developed to improve the growth rate and disease resistance of farmed abalone. Research in microbiology includes molecular-genetic investigations of industrially and medically important anaerobic bacteria such as Corynebacterium, Bacteroides fragilis, Bifidobacterium and the fibre-degrading bacteria in the ostrich gut. The taxonomy of antibiotic-producing actinobacteria is being investigated. The Department also runs an analytical facility (amino acid analysis, DNA sequencing, DNA synthesis, DNA microarrays and protein identification). The instrumentation in the facility consists of HPLCs, a GC MS/MS and LC-ESI QTOF and MALDI instruments for mass spectrometry.