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My research is primarily focused on agricultural biotechnology and plant cell wall degradation.
Biofuels (primarily liquid transportation fuels derived from plant biomass) can potentially lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, although they have been widely criticised for contributing to extensive farming and raised food prices in developing countries. Therefore the move towards renewable bio-alcohol based transportation fuels is in progress. The EU is committed to the replacement of 10-20% of current transportation fuels with renewables by 2020.
However current technology platforms rely on the supply of sugar from crop plants for conversion (fermentation to alcohol). Should we be able to degrade and release the sugars locked in plant cell wall polymers (lignin, hemicellulose and cellulose) as an alternative then raw materials could be sourced from non-edible/waste plant parts (second generation biofuels).
Over the past 5 years the Ferry lab have identified and cloned 2,500 enzymes that successfully break down plant biomass by screening understudied environments (such as the microbial consortia found in invertebrate guts). In the last year a suite of enzymes that degrade hemicellulose specifically have been expressed as recombinant proteins. This is particularly important as the industrial focus has been on cellulose, where-as should the degradation of hemicellulose be enabled then the cost per gallon of bio-alcohols falls below that of the cost of crude oil.
Thus my research focuses on:
Novel lignocellulose degrading enzymes.
Biochemical conversion of biomass advantageously preserves the original carbohydrate structures in the form of monomeric sugars and enzyme technology is generally considered the most sustainable technology for saccharification. However, despite large efforts in the past, the (in)efficiency of enzymatic hydrolysis of lignocellulosic materials remains a key limiting step. My work aims to construct metagenomic libraries from the guts of invertebrates known to digest lignocellulose and screen for novel enzymes.
Production of recombinant proteins.
Cloning and expression of candidate enzymes from metagenomic libraries.
Due to their high surface-to volume ratio and high surface energy nanoparticles can adsorb on their surfaces large amounts of biologically-relevant molecules, including enzymes. In collaboration with Dr Zeljka Krpetic we aim to improve the design and manufacturing of a multimodal bio-nanotechnology-based nanoplatform which will overcome the limitation of reduced conjugated enzyme activity and deliver the improvement of plant cell wall degradation for biofuel (applied catalysis).
My lab is also interested in the molecular basis of plant-insect interactions and the screening of plants and insects for novel proteins and peptides.
Investigating Plant-Insect Interactions at the Molecular Level. Plant responses to insect feeding (and other forms of stress) are highly complex and multidimensional. A key focus is characterizing the plant responses to herbivory using proteomics approaches.
Plant peptides. Recent work has included the cloning and expression of specific regions of plant lectins to (a) specifically recognise cancer cells and (b) to deliver either a toxin or siRNA into a cell.
CURRENT AND PAST PROJECTS
Details of my current research activity can be found:
in my Salford Profile Page