Core Themes

The DTP’s core research areas address the BBSRC’s strategic themes of world-class bioscience, food security and bioenergy and industrial biotechnology.

Core Themes

(1) Agriculture & Food Security

The world population is predicted to rise to 9bn people by 2050, and even now 1bn people are malnourished. Delivering food security means ensuring an adequate supply of nutritious, safe food for all in an environmentally sustainable manner. This will require the boosting of yields and nutritional content, and reducing wastage and spoilage while decreasing inputs of energy, water, fertilizers and agrochemicals against the background of climate change. Bioscience has a crucial role to play alongside other disciplines. Mechanistic biology can provide understanding of and the ability to optimize crucial plant processes to address the ‘yield gap’ which is the difference between the potential and actual productivity. It can develop new and more environmentally friendly methods of controlling pests and diseases and reducing post harvest losses through spoilage.

The White Rose DTP and its collaborating institutions has internationally recognised expertise in fundamental and applied molecular plant science. We also have strong expertise in the microbiology of food borne pathogens, in particular Salmonella and Campylobacter which links through to structural biology.

The Africa College Partnership (Leeds; and York Environmental Sustainability Institute ( provide a route for linking basic mechanistic biology research in the food security area to agroecology, soil & climate science, transportation and social science.



 (2) Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy

Energy and industrial materials from novel biological sources, reducing dependency on petrochemicals and helping the UK to become a low carbon economy

The challenge to position the UK as a low carbon economy, and meeting international targets for reducing emissions, requires a transformation in the way we produce and use energy, transport fuels, chemicals and industrial feedstocks.

The DTP undertakes research in this area using biological systems and resources for processing materials and chemicals and producing fuel in a sustainable way. Researchers in the White Rose DTP partnership are working on innovative projects to underpin the needs of industry and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. At York CNAP in the Department of Biology is developing biorenewable feedstocks for plant oils and speciality chemicals for industry. CNAP is a core member of the BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre (BSBEC) and is developing biomass as a renewable biorefinery feedstock and discovering new enzymes for biomass processing. York’s Structural Biology Laboratory in the Department of Chemistry has a long tradition of working with industry on the structural characterisation of enzymes and use of enzymes as biocatalysts. Researchers at the Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology at Leeds also have expertise in enzyme engineering. The Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Sheffield has interests in the exploitation of extremophiles for pharmaceuticals and biofuels, as well strong expertise in bioprocess engineering.



 (3) World Class Underpinning Bioscience

World-class bioscience is at the heart of our DTP as it underpins the translational and strategic aspects.  The White Rose DTP boasts one of the largest groupings of mechanistic biologists in the UK, studying basic, life governing, processes from the cellular to the atomic level as a research strength of all three partners.

Highlights include a BBSRC LoLa involving Westhead (Leeds) with (Cambridge, Birmingham and Manchester) is involved in regulatory network inference from new generation sequencing and other data. We are also at the forefront of method development; e.g. Duckett (Chemistry, York) (hyperpolarization NMR as a means of enhancing sensitivity in biological MRI), Dougan/Brockwell (Leeds) (single molecule force spectroscopy), Foster/Hobbs/Cadby (Sheffield) (super resolution microscopy for bacterial cell biology), Pearson/Cunningham (Leeds) and collaborators at RCaH (the development of TeraHz spectroscopy for analysis of protein dynamics); Wilson/Cowtan’s long-running development of macromolecular crystallography software through CCP4. Research highlights also include the use of cryo-EM to reveal the molecular mechanism of dynein (Burgess/Peckham/Edwards/Knight in Leeds) published in Cell, combining structural biology, bioinformatics and biochemical approaches to identify Burkholderia virulence factors (Rice/Wilson/Dickman/Hautbergue/Partridge/Artymiuk/Baker in Sheffield along with colleagues in Exeter, Malaysia and Singapore) published in Science and the highly interdisciplinary research exploiting novel mathematics in tiling theory (Twarock, York) with biochemical/biophysical characterisation (Stockley, Leeds) to provide powerful insights into virus structure and assembly.