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Two Nature papers published this week from Dame Carol Robinson's groupTwo Nature papers published this week from Dame Carol Robinson's group

Nature’s glue holds proteins in place for key functions. Fascinating structures of membrane proteins are emerging, and each one is being admired scientists for the intricacy of its construction. Meanwhile, the roles of much smaller molecules hidden within are now starting to gain a little attention.

In the first of two papers in this week’s journal Nature doi:10.1038/nature20820, Professor Carol Robinson and her group explore their hypothesis that weak protein interactions require an additional ‘glue’ to connect them. Research, led by Dr. Kallol Gupta, a Fellow of the 1851 Royal Commission, took on a systematic database search of all alpha helical membrane proteins that form assemblies. “I wasn’t sure where this was going initially; I was concerned that it might not lead anywhere” Robinson says.

But soon the unexpected link they had hoped for began to emerge: more lipid (fats) were needed when the strength of attraction was weak. In other words, if proteins can’t stick together on their own—lipids will help cement their interactions. These findings have important consequences: they explain how membrane proteins involved in key cellular processes—including alcholism, touch, sensation and pain—come together, often fleetingly, to form functional units.

In the second paper (doi:10.1038/nature20828), Robinson’s group contributed to defining proteins in microorganisms that populate the large intestine. This was as part of a wider collaboration, led by Professor Bert van den Berg and researchers at Newcastle University. Structures of two nutrient import proteins on the cell surface were solved using crystallography and were shown to function with a mechanism like a pedal bin, with SusC forming the bin and SusD the lid. After capture, the lid closes and the small molecule moves into the bin for transport into the cell. Robinson’s team applied mass spectrometry to define the number of interacting units and to expose the presence of small molecules, this time hidden within the bin.

Together, these papers set the stage for applying mass spectrometry to inform drug design for receptors on the surfaces of human cells, and for the microbiome in the gut—targets linked to addiction, anxiety, obesity and cancer.

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Professor Dame Carol Robinson Inspires Primary School PupilsProfessor Dame Carol Robinson Inspires Primary School Pupils

BBC Oxford reports that Dame Carol gave an impromptu science lesson at a primary school after receiving a letter from 8 year old pupil Connie Gordon, who wrote "..when I grow up, I want to be a professor of Chemistry like you. I would love it if you could come into my class and talk to us." After the visit, Connie said "Today's kind of changed me a bit. I've realised how chemistry is useful to the world and helps people."

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Best Flash TalkBest Flash Talk

Dr Timothy Barendt, a Junior Research Fellow at Christ Church in Inorganic Chemistry, was awarded a prize for the “Best Flash Talk” at the RSC Macrocyclic and Supramolecular Chemistry Meeting on 16th December 2016 in Edinburgh for his presentation on “Anion Driven Molecular Machines”. The award was made by one of the 2016 Nobel Laureates in Chemistry, Professor Sir Fraser Stoddart. Tim works alongside Prof. Paul Beer on anion-induced molecular motion in interlocked rotaxane and catenane molecular architectures.

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On the Cover of Angewandte ChemieOn the Cover of Angewandte Chemie

Recent work from second year SBM-CDT student, Moses Moustakim from the Dixon and Brennan (SGC) Groups has been selected as a ‘Hot paper’ by editors at Angewandte Chemie. The communication describes the development of the first potent, selective and cell active PCAF Bromodomain Chemical Probe. The work has also been selected to feature on the rear cover of the issue, and this artwork was designed by Karl Harrison

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RSC Poster Symposium Prize for Martin PeeksRSC Poster Symposium Prize for Martin Peeks

Congratulations to Martin Peeks for winning a prize for his poster titled “Aromaticity and antiaromaticity in a molecular nanoring” at the RSC Organic Division Poster Symposium in London on 5 December. Martin is a D.Phil. student in Harry Anderson’s group. (Image copyright Royal Society of Chemistry/ MPP Image Creation Limited.)

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Salters’ Graduate Prize for Alice GreenSalters’ Graduate Prize for Alice Green

Graduate student Alice Green has won the 2016 Salters' Graduate Prize. Alice was recognised for her work at St Andrew's University before she came Oxford to join Professor MacKenzie's research group. Alice was presented with her prize at the Salters' Institute Annual Awards Ceremony which celebrates high levels of excellence within the science education sector. Dr Annette Doherty, Senior Vice President Product Development and Supply at GlaxoSmithKline who delivered a keynote address and presented the Awards at the Ceremony. Dr Annette Doherty, Senior Vice President Product Development and Supply at GlaxoSmithKline who delivered a keynote address and presented the Awards at the Ceremony.

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Oxford Chemistry Alumnus Rob Simion launches Enzbond, a new biotechnology companyOxford Chemistry Alumnus Rob Simion launches Enzbond, a new biotechnology company

EnzBond, a new biotechnology company from Oxford University, has been formed to commercialise in-silico technology, which makes utilising enzymes in drug manufacturing both cost-effective and time-efficient. EnzBond's in-silico technology allows the company to examine the potential properties of these enzymes virtually, rapidly speeding up the process. EnzBond is also the first Oxford spinout developed by students since NaturalMotion, which was sold to games company Zynga for $527m in one of the largest spinout exits on record. Typically, spinout companies are either led or advised by an academic founder. In the case of EnzBond, the founders did everything from develop the underlying technology to pitching the technology to pharmaceutical partners and investors while PhD students, and officially founded the company upon completion of their studies.

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Nature paper by Professor Ben Davis HighlightedNature paper by Professor Ben Davis Highlighted

A Nature paper by Professor Ben Davis has been highlighted in the Telegraph, FT and DailyMail. The paper science discusses a crop spray which can boost farmer's wheat yields by one fifth, without the need for genetic modification. The team at Oxford and Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire, decided to try increase yields by helping plants use sugar more efficiently. They created a spray that contains a molecule called sugar trehalose 6-phosphate (T6P). T6P controls how wheat uses sucrose, the main fuel generated during photosynthesis. Sucrose is vital to the development of wheat grains, so the more T6P that is available to grains as they grow, the bigger the yield. When T6P molecules were added to a solution and sprayed on the wheat plants it created a ‘pulse’ which resulted in more sucrose being drawn into the grain to make starch which increased wheat grain size and yield by 20 per cent.

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Lilly Prizes for Excellence in Organic Chemistry ResearchLilly Prizes for Excellence in Organic Chemistry Research

The Lilly Prizes for Excellence in Organic Chemistry Research are awarded by Eli Lilly and Company Ltd. They are awarded for excellence in the first year of postgraduate study and are assessed on the quality of experimental work, written submission and viva voce at the point of examination for PRS transfer of status to DPhil. Dr Magnus Walter from Lilly’s came to award the prizes on Thursday 8 December.

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Protein disrupts cystic fibrosis biofilmsProtein disrupts cystic fibrosis biofilms

Professor Stuart Conway’s group and collaborators at Caltech have made progress in the fight against biofilms, layers of metabolically active but slowly growing bacteria embedded in a protective layer of slime that are resistant to antibiotics. The researchers identified a protein that degrades and inhibits biofilms of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the primary pathogen in cystic fibrosis (CF) infections. Their work is described in a new paper in the journal Science

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Roel Dullens ERC successRoel Dullens ERC success

Prof Roel Dullens has been offered a Consolidator Grant in the latest round of ERC grant awards under the Condensed Matter Physics panel of the Horizon 2020 Framework. The €2.0M project is entitled “Optical Manipulation of Colloidal Interfaces, Droplets and Crystallites” and will fund a comprehensive multidisciplinary approach to the study of interfacial phenomena in colloidal systems, described by referees as “ambitious and exceptionally original”

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Physical and Theoretical Chemistry Practical Prizes 2016Physical and Theoretical Chemistry Practical Prizes 2016

Six chemistry students were honoured for their practical work in Physical and Theoretical Chemistry at the Physical & Theoretical Chemistry Part II Open Day and Wine Reception, sponsored by Wiley. The winning students were: 1st year: Jiratheep Pruchyathamkorn (Merton) and Felicity Massingberd-Mundy (Oriel) 2nd year: Katherine Macfarlane (Oriel) , Ayush Prasad (Worcester), Bruno Marinic (St Johns) 3rd year: Cromarte Rogers (Trinity)

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OxStem Cardio launchedOxStem Cardio launched

A fourth subsidiary of OxStem Ltd, an Oxford spin-out co-founded by Prof. Steve Davies and Prof. Angela Russell has been launched (17th November 2016). OxStem Cardio, co-founded with Prof. Roger Patient (Professor of Developmental Genetics Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine) and Prof. Paul Riley (British Heart Foundation Professor of Regenerative Medicine), aims to identify drugs that will restore lost tissue following a heart attack by inducing cardiovascular regeneration, in order to improve cardiac function. This collaborative project will be funded within the University over the next three years following OxStem’s record £16.9M initial fundraise earlier this year.

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Pfizer Second Year Graduate Poster Symposium 2016Pfizer Second Year Graduate Poster Symposium 2016

Congratulations to Wasim Akhtar (Tim Donohoe’s group), Katrina Badiola (Martin Smith’s group), Tim Markovic (Michael Willis’ group) and Dan Kohn (Harry Anderson’s group) on winning the Pfizer poster prizes. The poster session followed the Pfizer Organic and Chemical Biology Symposium talks by Dr. Simon Lewis (University of Bath), Dr. David Blakemore (Worldwide Medicinal Chemistry, Pfizer) and Dr. Carmen Galan (University of Bristol).

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Radio 4 interviews Professor Charlotte Williams about her researchRadio 4 interviews Professor Charlotte Williams about her research

Professor Charlotte Williams talks to BBC Radio 4’s “Costing the Earth” in an episode examining potential uses for climate-changing carbon dioxide. She discusses her group’s research into the development of catalysts that will allow us to use carbon dioxide to make plastics

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ACS Citation for Chemical Breakthrough SymposiumACS Citation for Chemical Breakthrough Symposium

On Wednesday 2 November a one-day symposium was held marking the award of an ACS Citation for Chemical Breakthrough to Oxford Chemistry for the report of the structural determination of penicillin by Dorothy Crowfoot-Hodgkin and Barbara Rogers-Low. It is the 75th anniversary of the first human trials of penicillin carried out in the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford. Since those trials, beta-lactam antibiotics have become a powerful clinical weapon against infection and a success story of modern medicine. The Department was pleased to welcome Dr Peter Morris, who presented the award, and the external speakers, Prof. Chris Dowson, Prof. Achillefs Kapandis, Dr Allen Orville, Dr John Pavey, Dr Jim Spencer, Prof. Frank von Delft, Prof. Tim Walsh.

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BioBeat Movers and Shakers 2016BioBeat Movers and Shakers 2016

Prof Angela Russell has been named as a 'Rising Star' in the BioBeat 50 Movers and Shakers in BioBusiness 2016 report. Released annually, the report celebrates 50 outstanding women entrepreneurs and business leaders who are recognised for their contributions to global health innovation. BioBeat’s founder Miranda Weston-Smith said that the report highlights those women who are "transforming today’s challenges into tomorrow’s opportunities" and are inspirational "pioneers who are setting the pace in laboratories, healthcare, entrepreneurial companies ..." among others. Angela Russell, Associate Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the Departments of Chemistry and Pharmacology at the University of Oxford and co-founder of OxStem Ltd (www.oxstem.co.uk) said "I am delighted to have been recognised in this report standing alongside some exceptional bioscience business leaders in the field. Our research at OxStem has the potential to impact on the healthcare of millions worldwide with the approach of developing small molecule drugs in a wide range of therapeutic areas including cancer, neurodegenerative diseases and heart failure. I hope that my nomination, together with the women featured in this report, helps to inspire the next generation of bioscience entrepreneurs".

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Nature Commun Paper Highlighted.Nature Commun Paper Highlighted.

A strategy for 'bottling' elements as diverse XRF-phores in celluar biology just published in Nature Commun. has been highlighted in the university's Science Blog. Professor Ben Davis said: 'This work was part of a training network across Europe known as RADDEL that was launched based on an earlier discovery that radioactive iodide could be packed into sealed tubes to be used in living animals. This new research has expanded on that finding, creating a spectacular system that encapsulates much more difficult elements and images these in cells using the rarely used technique of XRF. We have been able to use this method to see how the tubes find their way into different compartments in individual cells, controlled largely by how we chemically "decorate" those tubes.

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Howard Prize Lecture of the Biophysical Sciences Institute at DurhamHoward Prize Lecture of the Biophysical Sciences Institute at Durham

Professor Justin Benesch was awarded the Howard Prize Lecture of the Biophysical Sciences Institute at Durham for his work on the role of dynamics in the assembly, activity and evolution of proteins. The international award is named in honour of Professor Judith Howard CBE FRS, and previous winners include David Nelson (Harvard), Sarah Veatch (Michigan) and Arwen Pearson (Hamburg).

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Work from Aldridge group highlighted in Nature ChemistryWork from Aldridge group highlighted in Nature Chemistry

Work from former Marie Curie post-doctoral fellow Arnab Rit in the Aldridge group has been highlighted in Nature Chemistry. The original paper – published in the same issue of the journal – describes the first example of a stable group 14 vinylidene compound.

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2016 Philip Leverhulme Prize2016 Philip Leverhulme Prize

The Department is pleased to announce that Professor Susan Perkin has been awarded a 2016 Philip Leverhulme Prize. The prize, which consists of £100,000 to advance the research of the winner, recognises outstanding researchers whose work has already attracted international recognition and whose future career is exceptionally promising.

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SABMiller and Bruker Undergradaute PrizesSABMiller and Bruker Undergradaute Prizes

Prof. Mark Brouard was delighted to present the SAB Miller and Bruker Prizewinners with their prizewinning cheques, for their outstanding performance in the first year and second year exams. The first year prizes were for Oliver Yu, EXT - 3rd prize, Daniya Aynetdinova, STC - 2nd prize, and Jiratheep Pruchayathamkorn, MER - 1st Prize The second year prizes were for Theo Fletcher, NEW- 7th prize, Jennifer Sideman, CCH - 6th prize, Yuan Belinda Ding, TRI - 5th prize, Nicola Ede, LIN - 4th prize, Jonathan Yong, LIN - 3rd prize and Isabel Creed, LMH - Joint 1st prize, Henry Chan, CCH - Joint 1st prize

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The Analytical Scientist Power List 2016The Analytical Scientist Power List 2016

Professor Dame Carol Robinson has been named one of the top 50 most influential women in the analytical sciences. The Power List by the Analytical Scientist aim is to prove just how impactful and diverse the field is by sharing the passions, pivotal moments and predictions of brilliant scientists who continue to shape our future.

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GlaxoSmithKline Prizes 2016GlaxoSmithKline Prizes 2016

The Department of Chemistry was very pleased to welcome Dr Pan Procopiou and Dr Jacob Bush to present the GlaxoSmithKline Prizes to the award winners: The GlaxoSmithKline Awards in Organic Chemistry Part II and The GlaxoSmithKline 3rd Year Undergraduate Prizes in Practical Organic Chemistry.

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Hydrogen Storage highlighted in Nature Scientific ReportsHydrogen Storage highlighted in Nature Scientific Reports

Hydrogen is often described as the fuel of the future, particularly when applied to hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles. One of the main obstacles facing this technology – a potential solution to future sustainable transport – has been the lack of a lightweight, safe on-board hydrogen storage material.

A major new discovery by scientists at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Cardiff in the UK, and the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) in Saudi Arabia, has shown that hydrocarbon wax rapidly releases large amounts of hydrogen when activated with catalysts and microwaves. This discovery of a potential safe storage method, reported in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, could pave the way for widespread adoption of hydrogen-fuelled cars.

Study co-author Professor Peter Edwards, who leads the KACST-Oxford Petrochemical Research Centre (KOPRC), a KACST Centre of Excellence in Petrochemicals at Oxford University, said: 'This discovery of a safe, efficient hydrogen storage and production material can open the door to the large-scale application of fuel cells in vehicles.'

Co-author Dr Tiancun Xiao, a senior research fellow at Oxford University, said: 'Our discovery – that hydrogen can be easily and instantly extracted from wax, a benign material that can be manufactured from sustainable processes – is a major step forward. Wax will not catch fire or contaminate the environment. It is also safe for drivers and passengers.'

Co-author Professor Hamid Al-Megren, from the Materials Research Institute at KACST, said: 'This is an exciting development – it will allow society to utilise fossil fuels or renewable-derived wax to generate on-board hydrogen for fuel cell applications without releasing any carbon dioxide into the air.' Hydrocarbons are natural, hydrogen-rich resources with well-established infrastructures. The research team has developed highly selective catalysts with the assistance of microwave irradiation, which can extract hydrogen from hydrocarbons instantly through a non-oxidative dehydrogenation process. This will help unlock the longstanding bottleneck hindering the widespread adoption of hydrogen fuel technology.

Co-author Professor Angus Kirkland, from the Department of Materials at Oxford University and Science Director at the new electron Physical Science Imaging Centre (ePSIC) at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, described the breakthrough as an exemplar of how Oxford is able to respond to key academic and industrial problems by using interdisciplinary resources and expertise.

Co-author Professor Sir John Meurig Thomas, from the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy at the University of Cambridge, said the work could be extended so that many of the liquid components of refined petroleum and inexpensive solid catalysts can pave the way for the generation of massive quantities of high-purity hydrogen for other commercial uses, including CO2-free energy production.

Professor Edwards added: 'Instead of burning fossil fuels, leading to CO2, we use them to generate hydrogen, which with fuel cells produces electric power and pure water. This is the future – transportation without CO2 and hot air.'

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AstraZeneca Sponsored Final Year D.Phil Symposium 2016AstraZeneca Sponsored Final Year D.Phil Symposium 2016

Congratulations to the four final year D.Phil students Simon Werrel (Donohoe group), Amelie Joffrin (Conway group), Erin Shepherd (Burton group) and Matt Bilyard (Davis group) who were awarded prizes for their talks at the two day Organic & Chemical Biology D.Phil Symposium.

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Best Established Medtech & Outstanding Achievement AwardBest Established Medtech & Outstanding Achievement Award

Oxford Nanopore Technologies the spin-out was awarded the Best Established Medtech & Outstanding Achievement Award at the Oxfordshire Bioscience Network (OBN) 2016 Awards ceremony on 6th October. The Best Established Medtech Company Award was for developing the world's first and only nanopore DNA sequencer and the Outstanding Achievement Award for being extremely disruptive in their field and setting an excellent example to the industry.

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OxStem Ltd wins Best Start-up Biotech Company AwardOxStem Ltd wins Best Start-up Biotech Company Award

OxStem Ltd, a University of Oxford spin-out company co-founded by Professor Steve Davies and Prof. Angela Russell, was awarded the Best Biotech Start-up Company Award at the Oxfordshire Bioscience Network (OBN) 2016 Awards ceremony on 6th October. The awards, held annually, celebrate innovation and achievement in the UK Life Sciences across Biotech, Medtech, Synthetic Biology and Digital Health categories. John Harris, CEO of OBN, said: "We are thrilled with the high quality of nominees this year which made picking just one winner in each category very difficult”. The company was recognised for it's disruptive approach to the field of regenerative medicine.

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John Weil Young Investigator AwardJohn Weil Young Investigator Award

Dr Claudia Tait, who undertook her DPhil work in CAESR, has been awarded the prestigious John Weil Young Investigator Award by the International ESR Society for the work conducted during her doctorate studies in the Timmel group. Her research mainly focussed on the characterisation of spin delocalisation in cationic and photogenerated triplet states of porphyrin nanoassemblies synthesized in the Anderson group

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Industry Fellowship for Tom FlemingIndustry Fellowship for Tom Fleming

Tom Fleming, DPhil Student in the Synthesis for Biology & Medicine Centre for Doctoral Training, has received a prestigious Industrial Fellowship from the Royal Commission of 1851 for his research on ways to improve chemotherapy treatments . The fellowships are given to the UK’s most promising young doctoral scientists and engineers to help fund their projects and bring their technology to fruition.

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