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Personal profile

Research interests

Current Research

We currently work on two themes: microbial metabolic engineering for production of chemicals from renewables, and bioprocessing for biopharmaceutical production. We also have long standing interests in applied biocatalysis. Much of our work is at the biology –chemistry/chemical engineering interface and has a strong focus in industrial biotechnology. We work closely with companies such as TMO Renewables and Fujifilm Diosynth and have links with a much wider network of industrial partners.

Metabolic engineering

Crop/waste lignocellulose conversion to fuels/chemicals involves inter-dependent steps: physical pretreatment; enzyme hydrolysis; fermentation and product recovery. Our work focuses on Geobacillus spp, bacteria which grow rapidly at 60-70oC on lignocellulose-derived oligomeric and monomeric carbohydrates. We worked with TMO Renewables in developing their “cellulosic” ethanol process using G. thermoglucosidasius (Cripps et al 2009). We are now creating a series of metabolic flux models, incorporating transcriptomic and 13C metabolic flux data to define strategies for making various chemicals from renewable feedstocks. We are also extending the catabolic versatility of this host to use complex carbohydrates in order to minimise the enzyme required for substrate pre-treatment, fundamental work which is being integrated with the use of real feedstocks (eg distillers dried grains, sugar beet pulp). This involves creation of new genetic tools employing a synthetic biology approach allowing the simple interchange of parts (Bartosiak-Jentys et al 2013). It also involves integrating substrate pre-treatment with the subsequent fermentation.


Pichia pastoris is a methylotrophic yeast commonly used for production of heterologous proteins including biopharmaceuticals. High heterologous protein titres can be obtained when cells are grown to very high cell density. However, the specific productivity is actually quite low and production is highly protein dependent. We are trying to unravel the rules which determine heterologous protein productivity in this host. This appears to be a combination of protein and host based factors

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Geobacillus Medicine & Life Sciences
Sugar beets Chemical Compounds
Xanthobacter Medicine & Life Sciences
Pichia Medicine & Life Sciences
Fermentation Engineering & Materials Science
Mixed Function Oxygenases Medicine & Life Sciences
Enzymes Medicine & Life Sciences
Genes Medicine & Life Sciences

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Projects 2012 2021

Research Output 1983 2019

Engineering Escherichia coli for the production of butyl octanoate from endogenous octanoyl-CoA

Chacón, M. G., Kendrick, E. G. & Leak, D. J., 1 Jul 2019, In : PeerJ. 7, e6971.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access

Esterification of geraniol as a strategy for increasing product titre and specificity in engineered Escherichia coli

Chacón, M. G., Marriott, A., Kendrick, E. G., Styles, M. Q. & Leak, D. J., 8 Jun 2019, In : Microbial Cell Factories. 18, 1, 11 p., 105.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access

Heterologous Microcompartment Assembly in Bacillaceae: Establishing the Components Necessary for Scaffold Formation

Wade, Y., Daniel, R. A. & Leak, D. J., 26 Jun 2019, In : ACS Synthetic Biology. 8, 7, p. 1642-1654 13 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access

Higher value products from AD: a review on medium chain carboxylic acids from bio-waste

De Groof, V., Arnot, T., Leak, D., Coma, M. & Lanham, A., 24 Jan 2019.

Research output: Contribution to conferencePoster


Addressing factors limiting the process efficiency of Pichia pastoris for the production of recombinant proteins

Author: Kendrick, E., 1 Sep 2016

Supervisor: Leak, D. (Supervisor), Whitley, P. (Advisor) & Hodgson, I. (External person) (Supervisor)

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Creation and evaluation of a pyruvate decarboxylase dependent ethanol fermentation pathway in Geobacillus thermoglucosidasius

Author: Buddrus, L., 1 Mar 2017

Supervisor: Danson, M. (Supervisor) & Leak, D. (Supervisor)

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Esterification as a strategy for the detoxification of value compounds in Escherichia coli

Author: Chacon, M., 21 Mar 2018

Supervisor: Leak, D. (Supervisor) & Bolhuis, A. (Supervisor)

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Genomic analysis and metabolic modelling of Geobacillus thermoglucosidasiusNCIMB 11955

Author: Lisowska, B., 29 Jun 2016

Supervisor: Leak, D. (Supervisor)

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Lower Energy Recovery of Dilute Organics from Fermentation Broths

Author: Davey, C., 3 Mar 2017

Supervisor: Patterson, D. (Supervisor) & Leak, D. (Supervisor)

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD