Skip to content
Research Fellows Directory

Benjamin Davis

Professor Benjamin Davis

Research Fellow


University of Oxford

Research summary

Current methods for the manipulation of the ‘workhorse’ molecules of biology, proteins, rely upon indirect manipulation of the DNA that encodes for gene products. We aim to circumvent this, the central ‘dogma’ of molecular biology, to develop generally applicable, precise manipulation of both protein structure and hence function at the protein level. In principle, this method would allow the full range of almost unlimited chemical functionality to be used in a biological context, allowing reprogramming of the side chains of amino acids in proteins not only to other natural amino acids using chemistry but also to amino acids containing other useful groups. Understanding, modeling and dissecting the protein functional group diversity is not only one of the key challenges in modern chemical and biological science but presents striking opportunities to create synthetic biological constructs with functions that have been fined tuned beyond those that are simply encoded genetically and that are typically restricted to just 20 amino acids. These methods in the manipulation of biomolecules now find generality in their application, not only to proteins, but also to sugars and nucleic acids.

This understanding could be translated into the development of tools for use in Medicine, Biology and Chemistry (• design and interrogation of molecular interactions in organisms using reporter groups detectable by non-invasive methods; • development of synthetic biomolecule tools to diagnose, monitor and treat disease; • design and development of synthetic bioconjugate therapeutics) This type of synthetic biology in the early 21st century has the potential to parallel the emergence of the field of synthetic organic chemistry and the key role this played in allowing the creation of unnatural small molecule therapeutics in the 20th century.

Interests and expertise (Subject groups)

Grants awarded

Direct Chemical Manipulation of Biomolecules in Biology & Medicine

Scheme: Wolfson Research Merit Awards

Dates: Dec 2009 - Nov 2014

Value: £125,000