Biological Sciences

Cell and structural biology and epigenetics

This theme encompasses a wide range of topics investigating fundamental biological processes at the level of cells, molecules and genes. Building on our established strengths in fundamental cell biology we are now developing new directions in epigenetics and genome function. The theme has strong links to our other research themes, notably with immunology, with synthetic biology and biotechnology, and with stem cell biology.

Cell biology

In cell biology, our research focuses on the molecular mechanisms that underpin genomic and cellular structure, function, stability, and development. The main themes are gene expression and RNA biology, cell architecture, growth and division, and genome stability.

The School has particular strengths in the study of RNA (ribonucleic acid), including:

  • transcription, processing, transport and destruction
  • the cell division cycle, focusing on the structure and segregation of chromosomes
  • gene expression in developing systems, particularly epigenetic processes such as DNA methylation

The School hosts the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology, which has established an international reputation for discoveries illuminating fundamental cellular mechanisms.

Molecular plant sciences

Our research in molecular plant sciences aims to understand how plants develop, resist disease and evolve and how they can be better used as crops.

Our core strengths in molecular genetics and cell, synthetic and systems biology are complemented by strong collaborative links with diverse biologists (including at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh), computer scientists and physical scientists.

Specific research areas include epigenetics, the biochemistry of cell walls and photosynthesis, cell-cell signalling, redox regulation of defence, circadian clocks, and evolution.

Structural and chemical biology

In structural biology, our research focuses on biophysical, biochemical and cellular studies of proteins and protein-ligand interactions.

We conduct our research in two main areas: structural studies and gene regulation; and medical targets and structure-based ligand discovery.

Techniques such as biomolecular nuclear magnetic resonance, X-ray crystallography and computational structure prediction are used to study a wide range of molecules.

Structural information is often combined with other physical methods to give comprehensive characterizations of biomolecules of interest to the pharmaceutical and food industries.

Our research strategy is based on extending the biophysical techniques used to characterise protein-ligand complexes to enable single molecule in vivo studies, supported by the interdisciplinary Centre for Translational and Chemical Biology which provides clear commercialisation opportunities for lead discovery and collaboration with industries.

Epigenetics and genome function

We are interested in how epigenetic information modulates genome function. Research areas of interest include the impact of epigenetics on gene expression and the manipulation of epigenetic mechanisms genetically and pharmacologically to uncover potential therapeutic approaches to disease.