Chris French


1991    Research assistant, New Zealand Dairy Research Institute

1994    Ph.D., Institute of Biotechnology, University of Cambridge

1994 - 1997    Post-doctoral research associate, Institute of Biotechnology, University of Cambridge

1998 - 2015    Lecturer and later Senior lecturer, School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh

2015 - Present    Professor of Microbial Biotechnology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh

Undergraduate teaching

Microorganisms, Cells & Immunity 2: Biology of bacteria; microbial biotechnology. Biotechnology 3: Water microbiology, microbial production of bulk and fine chemicals, synthetic biology. Biotechnology 4, Enzymology & Biological Processing: Bioreactors and biological processes, biosensors, synthetic biology.

  • Origin and Diversity of Life 1: Diversity of microbial life.

Research summary

We are interested in synthetic biology, a new discipline at the interface of biology and engineering. With colleagues in the School of Engineering & Electronics, we are developing methods to engineer novel biological systems using modular 'parts' and standardized assembly methods. These can be applied to generate artificial genetic networks, in a process we call 'object-oriented genetics', and also to generate multiple variants of metabolic pathways, in a process we call 'combinatorial genetic engineering'. We are currently focusing on the following application areas:

  1. Development of biosensors for the detection of contaminants in the environment. For example, we have developed novel biosensors for the detection of arsenic in groundwater, a major public health issue in parts of Asia.
  2. Development of genetic modules for the efficient conversion of cellulosic biomass to useful products. Cellulosic biomass is abundant and renewable, but very difficult to degrade. We have generated various combinations of genes encoding biomass-degrading enzymes, which allow recombinant organisms to grow with cellulosic biomass as a source of carbon. These can be combined with other genetic modules which allow the formation of useful products such as biofuels and food ingredients.

In addition to these activities, our laboratory organizes the University of Edinburgh's entries in the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition (iGEM: see We have had considerable success, winning prizes for Best Real World Application (2006), Best Model (2010, 2011) and Best Human Practices Advance (2011).

View all 63 publications on Research Explorer