John Ward

Professor of Synthetic Biology for Bioprocessing

Based at UCL

Personal Website

Molecular microbiology, synthetic biology and biocatalysis.

Prof John Ward uses bacteria to build enzyme systems and hosts for biocatalysis and synthetic biology. Biocatalysis is the use of enzymes to carry out defined steps of organic chemistry. The Ward group uses metagenomics and genome mining to find novel enzymes and then clone and express enzymes and multiple enzyme cascades for biocatalysis. The enzyme systems in our toolbox include enzymes such as transaminases, transketolases, ene-reductases, P450' and the plant alkaloid synthesising enzyme norcoclaurine synthase. Collaborations with Chemistry at UCL and Structural Biology at Birkbeck have lead to a deep understanding of the mechanism of the enzymes we use and the generation of defined enzyme mutants for difficult biocatalysis. A research program on using synthetic plant enzymes for building novel alkaloids is underway.

Novel antimicrobial compounds have been developed and one class of these has recently been patented. Further work to build new antibacterial compounds using biocatalytic cascades is currently being researched. In the field of synthetic biology he is developing novel synthetic pathways with multiple genes for sustainable use of waste streams such as sugar beet waste and distillers grains and to make renewable chemicals such as nylon precoursors. Novel engineered host systems are being built that destroy the entire genomic DNA content so that such host strains could be used as GM free bioreactors for environmental use. He has also developed and patented a filamentous phage as a biological laser.

Selected publications

Enzyme catalysed Pictet-Spengler formation of chiral 1,1'-disubstituted- and spiro-tetrahydroisoquinolines
Lichman, B.R., Zhao, J., Hailes, H.C., Ward, J.M.
 (2017) 8:14883
'Dopamine-first' Mechanism Enables Rational Engineering of Norcoclaurine Synthase (NCS) Aldehyde Activity Profile
Lichman,B.R., Gershater, M.C., Lamming, E.D., Pesnot, T., Sula, A., Keep, N.H., Hailes, H.C., Ward, J.M.
 (2015) 282 (6):1137-1151
Metagenome Mining: A Sequence Directed Strategy for the Retrieval of Enzymes for Biocatalysis
Jeffries, J., Dawson, N., Orengo, C., Moody, T., Quinn, D.J., Hailes, H.C., Ward, J.M.
Chemistry Select (2016) 1 (10):2217-2220