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Professor Nigel Saunders

Professor Nigel Saunders
Theme Leader / Professor - Systems & Synthetic Biology


Nigel believes that research should be both useful and interesting. He has co-authored over 100 academic papers and book chapters, largely relating to medical microbiology and research that exploits genome information and addresses how living systems work ‘as a whole system’ (in bacteria, plants, structural biology, cancer biology, biomarkers, and more). His work is highly cited (GS h-index 41) and he is always interested to explore ways in which genomics and systems biology can be exploited to gain deeper insights into how living systems work, especially the key determinants of how they behave. This is frequently, but far from exclusively, focussed on the factors / differences that make bacteria dangerous (or not), more recent focus has been on organisms useful for new synthetic biology-based solutions to sustainability in various forms. He is open to and encourages interested students, potential post-doctoral fellows, or collaborators to contact him and explore working with us at any time – or just to discuss an interesting idea.

Nigel trained in medicine in Aberdeen, including an additional Medical Research Council-supported year pursuing studying research and pathology (the mechanisms of disease), including electives and two Scottish Home and Health Department-funded summer research studentships pursuing laboratory research. He did his junior house officer posts in the professorial medical and surgical wards in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, working with clinical trials patients where possible, before starting specialist training in microbiology / pathology in Birmingham with Douglas Burden at Birmingham General Hospital. He did his main specialist training in microbiology and infection in the Infectious Disease Department at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School / Hammersmith Hospital in London (now part of Imperial College), under the directorship of Jon Cohen and Tom Rogers. During this time Nigel pursued research in Jon Cohen’s sepsis group, and more independently in the area of antibiotic therapy and drug monitoring. After completing the clinical requirements for training Nigel moved to an exclusively research-based / laboratory career, but this clinical and translatable background remains an important consideration in his work.

In 1995 Nigel was awarded a Wellcome Trust Research Fellowship in Medical Microbiology, and he moved to train in molecular biology, bacterial pathogenesis, and genomics in Richard Moxon’s Molecular Infectious Disease Group, in the Institute for Molecular Medicine, Oxford University. During this time he was fortunate to be trained and supported by a strong team and to be part of international collaborations at the forefront of bacterial genome sequencing, analysis, and exploitation. After this, in 2000, he was awarded a Wellcome Trust Advanced Research Fellowship, which supported a move to establish the Bacterial Pathogenesis and Functional Genomics Group, at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, Oxford University, and after this Fellowship he was taken over to an on-going post as a Reader and group leader in the Department. During this time work focussed on genomics, regulation, and the underlying evolution and determinants of bacterial virulence, but also included a wide range of collaborative projects exploiting functional genomics ranging from regulation in plants, mouse and human immunology, cancer biology, and biomarker discovery.

During his time in Oxford, Nigel also re-designed an taught the pre-clinical medical bacteriology course in the medical school, and held positions in several Oxford Colleges including a Lectureships at Magdalen College and Somerville College, a 5-year Fellowship at University College, and a Senior Research Fellowship at Somerville College.

In 2011 Nigel moved to Brunel University London to take up the Interdisciplinary Chair of Systems Biology, and co-directorship of the Centre for Systems and Synthetic Biology, which was partly incorporated into the Synthetic Biology Theme in 2014. This is an opportunity to continue and develop existing strong areas of research, and to develop others in the area of functional genomics, systems biology, and synthetic biology, which more appropriately encompass the way in which his research and interests have developed over the previous10+ years. Equally important, it involves a move to a University with a vision for a Systems Biology Centre which had a clear goal to integrate, develop, and exploit the biological sciences and computational science / maths interface, and to combine people from both backgrounds into a single research-focussed grouping, which is so vital to this area of research in the future. This integration is reflected by the fact that Nigel is a member of both Biosciences in the School of Health Sciences and Social Care, and also the School of Information Systems, Computing, and Mathematics.

For more information on Nigel’s research, please refer to the web pages for the Synthetic Biology Theme.


2001: Academic entry on the GMC / STA Specialist Register in Pathology / Bacteriology

2000: PhD (Medical Microbiology & Microbial Pathogenesis) Open University / Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of Oxford.

1995: DipRCPath

1994: MSc (Clinical Microbiology) University of London

1990: MB ChB (UK Medical Degree, equivalent of US MD) University of Aberdeen

1986: BMedBiol (Pathology) Hons/1st University of Aberdeen

Newest selected publications

Dimude, JU., Stockum, A., Midgley-Smith, SL., Upton, AL., Foster, HA., Khan, A., et al. (2015) 'The consequences of replicating in the wrong orientation: bacterial chromosome duplication without an active replication origin'. mBio, 6 (6). pp. e01294 - e01215. ISSN: 2150-7511 Open Access Link

Journal article

Foster, HA., Davies, J., Pink, RC., Turkcigdem, S., Goumenou, A., Carter, DR., et al. (2014) 'The human myometrium differentially expresses mTOR signalling components before and during pregnancy: Evidence for regulation by progesterone'. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 139. pp. 166 - 172. ISSN: 0960-0760 Open Access Link

Journal article

Etchells, JP., Moore, L., Jiang, WZ., Prescott, H., Capper, R., Saunders, NJ., et al. (2012) 'A role for BELLRINGER in cell wall development is supported by loss-of-function phenotypes'. BMC Plant Biology, 12 (1). pp. 212 - 212. ISSN: 1471-2229 Open Access Link

Journal article

Benner, MF., Ballabio, E., van Kester, MS., Saunders, NJ., Vermeer, MH., Willemze, R., et al. (2012) 'Primary cutaneous anaplastic large cell lymphoma shows a distinct miRNA expression profile and reveals differences from tumor-stage mycosis fungoides'. Experimental Dermatology, 21 (8). pp. 632 - 634. ISSN: 0906-6705 Open Access Link

Journal article

Sainsbury, S., Ren, J., Saunders, NJ., Stuart, DI. and Owens, RJ. (2012) 'Structure of the regulatory domain of the LysR family regulator NMB2055 (MetR-like protein) from Neisseria meningitidis'. Acta Crystallographica Section F, 68 (7). pp. 730 - 737. ISSN: 1744-3091 Open Access Link

Journal article
More publications(90)