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Professor Alison Smith


Many microalgae grow fast and produce large amounts of lipid molecules that might be used for biofuels or other industrial chemical purposes. Because these organisms are photosynthetic, they offer the potential of a more sustainable source for compounds currently obtained from fossil fuels. However, for this to become a commercial reality many challenges must be overcome, in particular the need to establish ways to cultivate microalgae at industrial scale, whilst avoiding contamination by bacteria, viruses or grazers, and ensuring reproducible synthesis of the desired chemicals. In my lab, we are studying many aspects of algal biotechnology, including:  

  • algal molecular biology and genomics – identifying and characterizing genes involved in lipid metabolism [ref 1 below]  
  • development of synthetic biology approaches for algal metabolic engineering, including use of riboswitches [ref 2]  
  • algal-bacterial symbiosis as a means to protect against contamination by unwanted bacteria [ref 3].  

All the projects use a combination of molecular biology, biochemistry and algal physiology, and include either synthetic biology or modelling approaches, depending on the interests and experience of the student. Full details of the project available in October 2014 are available on the group website.


  1. Chen JE and Smith AG (2012) A look at diacylglycerol acyltransferases (DGATs) in algae. J Biotechnol 162: 28-39 
  2. Moulin M, Nguyen T, Scaife MA, Smith AG, Fitzpatrick TB (2013) Analysis of Chlamydomonas thiamin metabolism in vivo reveals riboswitch plasticity. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 110: 14622–14627 
  3. Kazamia E, Czesnick H, Nguyen TTV, Croft MT, Sherwood EJ, Sasso S, Hodgson SJ, Warren MJ and Smith AG (2012) Mutualistic interactions between vitamin B12-dependent algae and heterotrophic bacteria exhibit regulation. Environ Microbiol, 14: 1466–1476

Professor Alison Smith

Professor Alison Smith
Department of Plant Sciences
Office Phone: 01223 333952

Second supervisors:

Depends on the exact project chosen