Professor Alison Smith
Our research addresses several aspects of the metabolism of plants, algae and bacteria. We use a wide range of techniques from biochemistry through molecular biology to genomics, and biophysical and analytical methods. We are interested in important biosynthetic pathways in higher plants including tetrapyrroles (such as chlorophyll and haem) and vitamins. We study the organisation and expression of the genes for the enzymes, and the regulation of the pathways, using microarray and metabolomics approaches.
In collaboration with Prof. Martin Warren we have made the remarkable discovery that over half of all algal species require an exogenous source of vitamin B12. They obtain it from bacteria via an apparently symbiotic interaction, which we are now probing at the molecular. In bacteria, genes for the enzymes from many vitamin biosynthetic pathways are controlled riboswitches, sequences in mRNAs to which the vitamin binds without the need for a protein factor. We are studying how they regulate vitamin biosynthesis, together with chemists Prof. Chris Abell and Dr Finian Leeper.
With the Algal Biotechnology Consortium (ABC), we are also exploiting algal biotechnology for a number of applications in the bioenergy industry, including the use of algae for biomass and biodiesel production, the production of biological solar panels, and hydrogen generation.