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Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry


Image: Professor Sir Shankar Balasubramanian.

Biological systems

We are continuing to build on Cambridge's legendary history of using chemical research to solve fundamental biological problems. We use chemical strategies to understand these biological systems at a molecular level, and our discoveries could have significant human and economic impact in areas as diverse as medicinal chemistry and energy harvesting.  Our researchers use a variety of chemical methodologies such as theory, informatics, chemical physics, spectroscopy, synthesis, protein and nucleic acid engineering through to manipulation of whole organisms. We are proud of our strong collaborations and joint programmes with biological departments and research institutes in and around Cambridge and beyond.

Our common themes

Biophysical and spectroscopic studies of macromolecule structure, dynamics and function

(Left) Proteins behaving badley (Fersht)

  • Nucleic Acid structures, their dynamic properties and epigenetics (Balasubramanian)
  • Multi-protein complexes and protein-protein interactions  (Jackson)
  • Protein localisation and function in cells (Klenerman, Lee)
  • Biofilm structure and function (Zhang)
  • Gene editing and synthetic biology tool development (Willis)
  • The development and application of new biophysical and computational methods methods for the study of macromolecular properties (Colwell, Duer, Klenerman, Knowles)
  • Tissue structure and function (Duer)

David Klenerman (left) and Shankar Balasubramanian, who received the Royal Society Royal Medal in 2018 for their development of next generation DNA sequencing. See story here.


The Duer group (left) is using solid-state NMR to study bone, which is a composite material iconsisting of an organic matrix (collagen) with inorganic crystals (calcium phosphate) deposited in it. We are using solid-state NMR to study the nature of the interface between these two components, this region being critical to understanding the structural properties of this important biological material.

TheLeeLab (right) focusses on the development of new biophysical and single-molecule fluorescence methods to answer fundamental biological problems.




Small molecule intervention in biological processes



Researchers in the Bernardes Group have successfully used Artificial Intelligence to identify an inhibitor for an enzyme that is over-expressed in a range of tumours.  See story here.









The Spring group is using diversity-oriented synthesis to search for new antibacterial agents with novel modes of action.



New biologically inspired catalysts, responsive materials and synthetic methodology applied to biological systems

Scientists have used a combination of detailed cellular and molecular approaches to discover how protein clumps are toxic to neurons. See story here. Image credit Matthew Horrocks.