Group Leader: Neil Dixon

Neil Dixon originally studied as a Medicinal Chemist and then went on study small molecule-membrane protein interactions during his PhD using a range of biochemical and biophysical techniques. He then trained in Chemical and Synthetic Biology at the University of Manchester. He previously held a BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship in Synthetic Biology and BBSRC/RSE Enterprise fellowship based at the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB). He is interested in applying molecular based approaches to both understand and harness the power of biological systems.

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Research Fellow: Rosa Morra

I am a research fellow in the lab of Dr Neil Dixon. I obtained my PhD in Industrial Biotechnology at the University of Naples in Italy. After that, I gained extensive experience in the fields of biochemistry, structural, molecular and cell biology working as a PDRA at Emory University (US), at the University of Oxford (UK), and then at the Manchester Cancer Research Centre. During this time, I have been leading projects focusing on studying the regulation, function and structure of genes involved in chromatin and protein modifications. I then moved to the MIB to apply my experience in gene expression control in the context of synthetic biology working to develop and characterise novel bacterial protein production system with improved attributes. My current research is focused on engineering bacterial stress response pathways to enhance host protein expression and secretion capabilities, develop microbial biosensors, and establish bacterial co-culture with nutritional dependencies as model system to study microbial interaction to improve product yield during biotransformation processes. 

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PDRA: Micaela Chacon

I completed my PhD in microbial metabolic engineering at the University of Bath. Since then, I’ve extended my experience in the fields of protein chemistry, metabolic engineering, and synthetic biology with PDRA positions at the University of Bath, the University of Leeds, and now the University of Manchester. My research focuses on the valorisation of renewable/waste feedstocks using engineered microbial hosts and investigating the potential benefit of using microbial co-culture over mono-cultures for bioproduction.

PDRA: Lisa Cliffe

Lisa graduated from the University of Manchester with a degree in microbiology. Lisa spent several years in industry, initially working as a histopathology technician supporting a large pharmaceutical company, then as a healthcare scientist practitioner for Public Health England. In 2017 Lisa returned to the University of Manchester to undertake a PhD in Geomicrobiology, exploring microbial impacts on shale gas exploitation. Upon completion of her PhD, Lisa joined the Dixon group as a PDRA and is currently working on the horizontal gene transfer of recombinant plasmids to support environmental bioremediation.

PhD Student: Philip Le Roy

I studied Biochemistry with an industrial placement year at Newcastle University. I undertook my placement at the Prozomix, who specialise in producing enzymes from lab bench scale to bioprocess quantities. This experience was invaluable in introducing me to the biotechnology industry, as well as instrumental in driving my desire to pursue biotechnological solutions toward a more economically sustainable future. My current research centres around developing whole cell biocatalysts for the chemical valorisation of lignocellulosic and PET plastic feedstocks, with a primary focus on understanding the transporters that mediate the import and export of substrates and products from the cell. We aim to leverage our findings to develop bacterial strains that assimilate growth substrates, convert these into high value chemicals and then excrete them back into the medium in a concerted manner.

PhD Student: Ivona Pocrnja

My name is Ivona and I am part of the Dual PhD Programme of University of Manchester and Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, where I am part of Xuerui Yang’s group. I am currently working on transcriptomic and translatomic profiling of bacteria undergoing stress conditions, utilizing cutting-edge techniques such as Ribo-Seq and Disome- Seq. My project combines wet and dry lab techniques, where most of the experimental work is expected to be performed at UoM, and the next steps will focus more on the dry lab work while at Tsinghua later. In my free time I like traveling- exploring new places and cultures, and learning new languages.

PhD Student: Thomas Butterfield

Hi, I’m Tom. I’m a research technician and a PhD student in the Dixon lab. I studied microbiology at the University of Manchester and have since expanded my skills in molecular biology and bioinformatics. My research interests centre around using a combination of wet and dry lab approaches to understand bacterial genetic regulation and using this knowledge to optimise regulatory systems. I’m currently working on: finding novel regulatory elements involved in PET plastic degradation, and investigating RNA mediated regulation of the ‘excretion of cytoplasmic proteins’ phenomena. Outside of the lab, I’m normally found trying to improve my squash game or finding a new fountain pen to obsess over.

PhD Student: Guada Alvarez Gonzalez

Guadalupe began her PhD at the MIB in 2018. Her research focuses on the development of genetically encoded biosensors as tools for diverse applications towards the valorization of aromatic compounds, including the directed evolution of enzymes and the construction of dynamic metabolic pathways. Prior to her PhD, she obtained an MSc in Biotechnology and Enterprise from the University of Manchester, after graduating with an BSc in Biology. During her studies she participated in the iGEM competition, where her team was awarded the gold medal and best model prize. Since then Guadalupe has become very passionate about synthetic biology and cutting-edge biotechnologies, and is always keen to explore the bridge between science and business. Moreover, as part of her DTP PhD placement, she worked as an analyst at the start-up Biorelate, where she was exposed to AI and data technologies and gained very valuable insights into generating data-driven answers to biological questions. Moving forward, Guada is keen to utilise this reasoning approach in her research in order to develop advanced synthetic biology tools for optimised bioprocessing.

PhD Student: Alejandro Marquiegui

My current line of research is focused on plasmid-mediated biaugmentation using Pseudomonas as a chassis for horizontal gene transfer. The scope of my research is at the interface between Synthetic Biology and Microbial Ecology. From the Synthetic Biology perspective, I work with an operon responsible for plastic byproduct assimilation. The aim of the project is to use this operon as ‘cargo’ and delivered native members of microbial soil communities. Hence from the Microbial Ecology perspective, I am interested in horizontal gene transfer across soil communities as well as plasmid and metabolic compatibility of the ‘cargo’.


Dr Adokiye Berepiki – Future bio-manufacturing Hub UoM

Dr Ross Kent – Synthace

Dr Leo Machado – Yale

Luminita Horga – Investor

Dr Fenryco Pratama – Institut Teknologi Bandung, Bandung, Indonesia

Dr Jayender Shankar PDRA – Novartis Speke

Dr Sam Halliwell PDRA

Kae Young Technician

Lisa Butler Technician


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