Professor Colin Robinson
Professor in Biotechnology/Head of School
School of Biosciences
- 01227 (82)3443
Professor Colin Robinson joined the School of Biosciences in 2013. He studied Biochemistry as an undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh and went on to carry out a PhD studying chloroplast protein targeting with John Ellis at the University of Warwick. This generated a long-standing interest in protein targeting systems which has remained a dominant interest in the research group. After completing his PhD he spent 2 years at the University of Munich studying mitochondrial protein targeting with Professor Walter Neupert. He then returned to Warwick as a lecturer in 1985 and spent the next 27 years at Warwick as Lecturer, Senior lecturer and finally Professor. Much of the research in the Robinson lab is focused on the mechanisms by which proteins are transported into and across biological membranes, with a particular focus on the bacterial protein export system, Tat. Current research in the lab involves the exploitation of bacterial protein export systems for the production of high value recombinant proteins, as well as investigation of the unique proofreading mechanism of the bacterial and plant Tat systems.
Colin is a member of the Industrial Biotechnology and Synthetic Biology Group and the Industrial Biotechnology Cenreback to top
Also view these in the Kent Academic Repository
Understanding and exploiting (i) protein transport systems in bacteria and chloroplasts, and (ii) pathways for high-value products in microalgae
Protein transport systems
Much our research is focused on the mechanisms by which proteins are transported into and across biological membranes. In particular, we are interested in bacterial protein export. Bacteria export numerous proteins into the periplasm (Gram-negative species) or the cell wall/medium (Gram-positives) and the underlying mechanisms have been studied in great detail. Many proteins are exported using the Sec-dependent pathway, in which substrates are 'threaded' through the membrane-bound Sec translocon in an unfolded state. Other proteins are exported by the twin-arginine translocation, or Tat pathway. In this pathway, substrates are synthesised with N-terminal signal peptides containing a key twin-arginine motif. The proteins are then transported by a membrane-bound Tat translocon which is uniquely able to transport fully folded proteins - even oligomeric proteins - across the tightly coupled plasma membrane. Ongoing projects are aimed at understanding how this is achieved, and how the system can be expolited for the production of high-value therapeutic proteins.
Microalgae (which we define here as cyanobacteria and unicellular eukaryotic algae) hold great promise for the biotechnology industry. They divide rapidly, can be grown under phototrophic conditions, and contain a variety of high-value compounds including colourants and oils. However, they also have real potential as cell factories. As part of a large EU-funded consortium, we are developing strains that express pathways for high-value compounds, using the cyanobacterium Synechocystis PCC6803 and the alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii as host organisms. We are also expressing high-value biotherapeutics in Chlamydomonas in order to assess this organism's potential as a protein production host.
GCRF Establishment of biopharmaceutical and animal vaccine production capacity in Thailand and SE Asia
Biopharmaceuticals are protein drugs used to treat a range of diseases, including cancer and autoimmune diseases. Thailand currently import all of their biopharmaceuticals, making them prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of patients. Imported animal vaccines are also expensive and often ineffective.
The Robinson lab, in collaboration with UCL, Imperial College, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi and the National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Thailand, have been awarded a £4.8 million GCRF grant to establish biopharmaceutical and animal vaccine production in Thailand and neighbouring SE Asian countries.
Major projects aims:
- To produce Biopharmaceuticals in Thailand for the first time at a cost that allows wide access to patients.
- To produce a suite of veterinary vaccines against major porcine disease that will be made available to farms in Thailand, resulting in a sustained reduction in livestock losses.
- To establish state of the art technical capacity for recombinant protein production by Thai groups, which can be expanded upon and consolidated for future growth.
- To give neighbouring SE Asian countries full access to the programme’s technology and expertise in order to effectively plan similar ventures.
For more information on this project, see:
IB Catalyst project to develop a suite of new tools for production of recombinant proteins in E. coli
Over a third of licensed biopharmaceuticals are produced in Escherichia coli and there is a need to develop new production methods to maintain the UK's competitive edge. The Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst programme is a BBSRC/Innovate UK/EPRSC venture to support larger-scale biotechnology projects in the UK. Prof Colin Robinson is co-ordinator of the project entitled 'A new generation of E. coli expression hosts and tools for recombinant protein production'. This £2.6 million grant funds research at the Universities of Kent, Birmingham and Sheffield. The project also has industrial links with MedImmune, Fuji-Diosynth, Cobra, and UCB.
The primary objective of this project is to develop an integrated E. coli production platform for biopharmaceutical production, incorporating innovations at key stages including product synthesis, folding, export to the periplasm and release to the culture medium. This will provide industry with a powerful alternative to current strategies, most of which are based on decades-old technology. These innovations will have a long-lasting effect on the UK's ability to compete within a market that is currently worth in excess of $100 billion p.a.
The groups involved are as follows:
(WP 1). Production of proteins in a highly regulated manner (Busby group - Birmingham)
(WP 2). Export of proteins from the cytoplasm to the periplasm (Robinson group - Kent)
(WP 3). Characterisation of production strains using advanced proteomics (Wright group - Sheffield)
(WP 4). Release of target proteins from the periplasm (Dafforn group - Birmingham)
(WP 5). Industrial validation (Smales group - Kent)
The bacterial and plant Tat systems - unique mechanism and remarkable 'proofreading' abilites
The unique nature of the Tat mechanism has prompted great interest in the system and we are studying the mechanism (poorly defined so far) the structure of the membrane bound Tat complexes and the 'proofreading' of substrates. Some Tat substrates need to be exported in a properly folded state because they bind complex redox cofactors in the cytoplasm (for example, FeS centres). The system has to be able to 'know' when the substrate is fully folded and with the cofactors in place before it is exported, and recent evidence suggests that this is a complex process. We are using a combination of approaches to dissect the proofreading mechanism and understand this system further.
Marie Skłodowska-Curie project, 'ProteinFactory'
The Robinson group is a partner in the MSCA actions Innovative Training Network, 'ProteinFactory'. The project aims to understand and exploit protein export systems in Gram-negative and –positive organisms, in order to develop next-generation secretion platforms. The project involves collaboration with 9 other research groups and companies throughout Europe, started in September 2015.
- Dr Alison Walters
- Dr Emi Nemoto-Smith
- Dr Alex Jones
- Amber Peswani
- Chi Jawara
- Kelly Frain
- Daphne Mermans
- Isabel Guerrero Montero
- Gilles Malherbe
- Sarah Bischoff
- Amber Peswani