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Professor Dek Woolfson

Professor Dek Woolfson

Professor Dek Woolfson
B.A.(Oxon.), Ph.D.(Cantab.)

Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Area of research

Protein design and its application in bionanotechnology and synthetic biology

Office Chem 529b Mon, Wed, Thu, Fri & Life Sciences 303 Tue
School of Chemistry,
Cantock's Close, Bristol BS8 1TS
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+44 (0) 117 39 41314
+44 (0) 117 954 6347


The primary basic research interests of the group are: (A) the informational aspect of the protein-folding problem; that is, how does the sequence of a protein determine its active, three-dimensional structure or fold?  And (B), how can we use this information to design completely new proteins from scratch?  In addition, we design proteins for applications in synthetic biology and medicine.

We tackle these problems using the following multi-disciplinary approach:

  1. We use bioinformatics to garner sequence-to-structure relationships from protein sequence and structural databases.

  2. We test the relationships ("rules for protein folding") that we find in two ways: (a) through ab initio protein-structure prediction; and (b) via rational protein design, where we engineer natural protein structures, or design new ones completely from scratch (so-called de novo design).

  3. We then test our engineered and design proteins experimentally using biophysical methods. The peptides and proteins are made either by peptide synthesis, or via recombinant DNA methods and the expression of synthetic genes. The products and then characterised using methods including: solution-phase biophysics (CD, FT-IR and fluorescence spectroscopy, AUC and ITC); high-resolution structural biology (NMR spectroscopy and X-ray crystallography); and microscopy (EM, AFM and light microscopy).

  4. Finally, we explore potential applications of some the engineered and designed proteins in the burgeoning fields of bionanotechnology and synthetic biology.

Professor Woolfson is a supervisor in the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Chemical Synthesis


Prof Dek Woolfson took his first degree in Chemistry at the University of Oxford in 1987.  He then did a PhD at the University of Cambridge followed by post-doctoral research at University College London and the University of California, Berkeley.  After 10 years as Lecturer through to Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Sussex, he moved to the University of Bristol in 2005 to take up a joint chair in Chemistry and Biochemistry.  His research has always been at the interface between chemistry and biology, applying chemical methods and principles to understand biological phenomena.  Specifically, his group is interested in the challenge of rational protein design, how this can be applied in synthetic biology and biotechnology, and with a particular emphasis on making completely new protein structures and functions, and also biomaterials for applications in biotechnology, cell biology and medicine.  Prof Woolfson is Director of BrisSynBio, a BBSRC/EPSRC-funded Synthetic Biology Research Centre.


Prof Woolfson teaches in the Schools of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and on subjects in and around biological chemistry and physical biochemistry.  Specifically, he delivers lecture coures on protein structure, folding, design and assembly; and on chemical and synthetic biology.


  • bionanotechnology
  • protein assembly
  • protein design
  • protein folding
  • synthetic biology



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