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Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry


Assistant Professor of Chemical Biology

Research themes

Synthetic biology, gene editing, molecular biology, protein engineering, bioengineering.


  • 2023 - present:  Assistant Professor of Chemical Biology at the Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  • 2018 - 2023:  Postdoctoral Research Fellow in gene editing with Professor David Liu at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, MA, USA
  • 2013 - 2018:  PhD in genetic code expansion with Professor Jason Chin at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK
  • 2009 - 2013:  Studied Natural Sciences (Chemistry) at the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

Current research

The common theme across our scientific work is exploring natural diversity to identify proteins with novel functions or properties, studying and characterising them, and finally engineering them to create new technologies. 

We study a fascinating and unusual class of viruses which use a unique mode of protein-primed DNA replication to propagate their linear DNA genomes. These represent one of the few known biological systems in which protein-DNA covalent bonds can be naturally found. This group of viruses is very understudied but hold great promise for exciting biotechnology applications. In particular, we are exploring how to repurpose these viral replication proteins to create innovative new tools for gene editing to treat human genetic disease.

Watch Dr Willis discuss his research


Compact zinc finger base editors that edit mitochondrial or nuclear DNA in vitro and in vivo.
JCW Willis, P Silva-Pinheiro, L Widdup, M Minczuk, DR Liu
– Nat Commun
Engineered triply orthogonal pyrrolysyl–tRNA synthetase/tRNA pairs enable the genetic encoding of three distinct non-canonical amino acids
DL Dunkelmann, JCW Willis, AT Beattie, JW Chin
– Nature Chemistry
Rapid discovery and evolution of orthogonal aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase–tRNA pairs
D Cervettini, S Tang, SD Fried, JCW Willis, LFH Funke, LJ Colwell, JW Chin
– Nature biotechnology
An Evolved Methanomethylophilus alvus Pyrrolysyl-tRNA Synthetase/tRNA Pair Is Highly Active and Orthogonal in Mammalian Cells.
V Beránek, JCW Willis, JW Chin
– Biochemistry
Mutually orthogonal pyrrolysyl-tRNA synthetase/tRNA pairs
JCW Willis, JW Chin
– Nat Chem
The length distribution of frangible biofilaments
TCT Michaels, P Yde, JCW Willis, MH Jensen, D Otzen, CM Dobson, AK Buell, TPJ Knowles
– J Chem Phys
Scalable microaccordion mesh for deformable and stretchable metallic films
J Mertens, RW Bowman, JCW Willis, A Robinson, D Cotton, R White, KA Seffen, JJ Baumberg
– Physical Review Applied

Research Interest Group

Telephone number

01223 336537

Email address