Dame Carol Robinson

Photo of Carol Robinson

Professor Dame Carol Robinson DBE FRS FMedSci FRSC

Dr Lee's Professor of Chemistry

Director of the Kavli Institute for Nanoscience Discovery at Oxford




Research Interests

Building on my earliest observations of ligand binding to folded proteins, I became fascinated by the balance of interactions that enable proteins and their complexes to survive in the gas phase. This has guided my research over the years and prompted many of my current questions and future directions.

The central tenet of our research is that native mass spectrometry (MS), a technique which enables interactions of proteins to be maintained in the gas phase, can provide unparalleled information on the structure, binding partners and dynamics of proteins, complementing other biophysical approaches yet a powerful tool in its own right. Particularly exciting is, I believe, the agility with which native MS can be adapted and applied to the research challenges of our time. Our overall goal is to continue to develop and advance our native MS methods for application to a range of fundamental and applied research goals. Current projects are given below:

Recapitulating physiological environments using novel detergents and membrane mimetics

Manipulating the chemical properties of detergents is allowing us to fine-tune lipid binding and extraction conditions for membrane proteins. Similarly, the use of membrane mimetics, such as lipodisqs (or SMALPs), enables us to capture lipid interactions from native-like environments while nanoemitters are facilitating the study of receptors in high concentrations of physiological relevant metal ions.

Ejecting complexes directly from membranes

Extraction from native membranes can sometimes change the structure and lipid binding properties of protein complexes leading to conflicting results and fuelling a drive to study complexes directly from native membranes. We are developing approaches whereby complexes can be ejected directly from membranes to inform on their lipid binding partners and response to challenge with antibiotics or other drug molecules.

Uncovering mechanisms of drug resistance

The effects of lipid binding on the conformation and stoichiometry of membrane proteins is particularly important for complexes involved in antimicrobial resistance mechanisms. Binding of cell wall lipid components, as well as monitoring lipid flipping and antibiotic binding, is leading to an increase in our understanding of the roles of lipids and other small molecules in these critical mechanisms.

Linking post-translational modifications to function of protein complexes

Incorporation of different isoforms and protein lipid binding properties, particularly of solute carriers, GPCRs and rotary ATPases, is informing many aspects of the structural biology of these complexes. Studying these complexes from different cellular environments, for example kidney and brain, as well as applying new methods of activation and detection, is further contributing to our understanding of their structure- function relationships.

Trapping metabolites in membrane proteins to link protein complexes to health disorders

Ligands within protein assemblies provide critical information for function yet are often difficult to capture and define. We have developed a novel top-down method, “Nativeomics”, unifying “omics” (lipidomics, proteomics, metabolomics) with native mass spectrometry to identify ligands bound to membrane protein assemblies. By maintaining the link between proteins and ligands we are able to define the lipidome/metabolome in contact with membrane proteins and thereby discover potential regulators of protein function.  


Carol Robinson holds the University Chair of Dr. Lee’s Professor of Chemistry and is the first Director of the Kavli Institute for Nanoscience Discovery at Oxford.  She is recognised for establishing mass spectrometry as a viable technology to study the structure, function and interactions of proteins and their complexes.  Her collaborations span both academic and industrial laboratories and in 2016, her spin-out company, OMass Technologies, was founded.  Now trading as OMass Therapeutics the company uses high definition native mass spectrometry to develop drug therapies for use in immunologic and genetic disorders.   Carol graduated from the Royal Society of Chemistry in 1979 and completed her PhD at the University of Cambridge. She took a career break of eight years to bring up her children and later became the first female Professor of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge (2001-2009).  She has held the Dr. Lee’s Chair in Chemistry since 2009 and is Oxford’s first female Professor of Chemistry. Her work has attracted over twenty awards and prizes including most recently, the Othmer Gold Medal from the Science History Institute (2020),  Royal Medal A from the Royal Society, Novozymes Prize from the Novo Nordisk Foundation and Stein and Moore Award from the Protein Society (2019).  Carol is the former  President of the Royal Society of Chemistry (2018-2020) and a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences USA. She holds fifteen honorary doctorates and offices and received a DBE in 2013 for her contributions to science and industry. 



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PA: Anne Gough


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Research group

Professor Dame Carol Robinson Research Group


Exeter College