Nicola Burgess-Brown obtained a First Class degree in Applied Biochemical Sciences from the University of Ulster in 1997 and spent the following year working as a molecular biologist for SmithKline Beecham. She received her Ph.D. in Molecular Microbiology “Quorum Sensing and Regulation of Virulence Gene Expression in Porphyromonas gingivalis” at the University of Nottingham in 2001. Nicola returned to industry to work on high-throughput cloning and validation of therapeutic cancer antigens for Oxford Glycosciences and subsequently Celltech R&D Ltd. Since joining the SGC in 2004, Nicola has been responsible for optimising the high-throughput screening processes from cloning to expression and purification of human proteins for structural and functional studies. In June 2009, Nicola developed a similar pipeline for production of human integral membrane proteins (IMPs) using the baculovirus/ insect cell expression system. Since June 2011, Nicola has been the Principal Investigator of Biotechnology, responsible for all biotech research (working with soluble proteins, membrane proteins and epigenetics targets) for the Oxford site.
The Biotechnology group is primarily responsible for generating the pipeline of clones targeted by the SGC in Oxford and determining using high-throughput (HTP) screening methods which proteins are expressed in a soluble and stable form suitable for structural and functional studies. We have developed and optimised protocols for high-throughput cloning, test expression/purification and mass spectrometry analyses, large scale expression and protein production and validation. We screen a wide range of proteins (intracellular, extracellular and integral membrane proteins) using E. coli, baculovirus/insect cell and mammalian (BacMam) expression systems.
The platform established by the Biotechnology team, has enabled the site at Oxford to generate more than 550 novel human protein structures and 5 integral membrane protein structures. The group collaborates and interacts closely with the other SGC teams, to develop methods for increasing protein expression, parallel processing and driving output. In addition to enhancing protein expression levels, we also aim to reduce our cost per structure by seeking alternative cheaper reagents, consumables and increasing throughput further by miniaturising processes and increasing automation where possible. Discovering ways to successfully produce the most challenging human proteins would open many doors to our long-term goals as an organisation of understanding how proteins function independently, in complexes and also how they interact with drug molecules.