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Research Fellows Directory

Rosalind Rickaby

Dr Rosalind Rickaby

Research Fellow


University of Oxford

Research summary

Chemical elements are the building blocks of life. The major elements, C, H, O, N, P, S are easily recognised as essential nutrients, but their use by life relies on metalloproteins. Even though metals lie at the heart of the catalytic potential of almost all proteins, less than half of all metalloproteins are known because metal-binding motifs are diverse and poorly recognised. Whole genomes remain opaque to decoding of this bioinorganic dimension, and optimal trace element concentrations for physiological function. Defining the elemental requirements for maximum growth rate of photosynthesising phytoplankton in the ocean, is critical to understanding Earth’s climate. Although microscopic in stature, phytoplankton exert a gigantic influence on the biological pumping of carbon from the atmosphere to the deep ocean. Yet their metal requirements are poorly constrained.

In this project, we will define the modern marine metallome/metalloproteome. I will explore the expanse of the periodic table for novel required elements by growing phytoplankton, representative of the broadest chemotypes, in manipulated media to delineate optimal conditions for growth whereby any limitation at lowered concentrations implies use. The second prong uses cutting-edge techniques that unite methods from proteomics with geochemical mass-spectrometry to allow both metals and their associated proteins to be examined comprehensively.

The discovery of new essential elements for marine life and their optimal concentrations, will unveil how metal cycling is geared to the biological pump, past and future. APPELS will provide a step change in documentation of metal binding and selectivity by protein active sites, an enormous leap forwards in translating genetic codes to match proteins with their metal “pairs”. Our results could have implications for optimal nutrition, potentially uncovering new essential elements for life.

Interests and expertise (Subject groups)

Grants awarded

A periodic probe of the elements for life in the sea

Scheme: Wolfson Research Merit Awards

Dates: Oct 2016 - Sep 2021

Value: £50,000