I gained a BSc (Hons) degree in Biochemistry & Biological Chemistry at the University of Nottingham in 1990, then stayed on to complete a PhD on novel aspects of benzyne chemistry under the supervision of Dr David Knight. I came to Rothamsted in 1994 as a Natural Products Chemist to help establish Chemical Ecology research on haematophagous insects , and in 2002, was promoted on scientific merit to the level of Senior Research Scientist.
Since 2002, I have played a key role in developing many areas of the Group’s research (see personal publication list), for example leading studies in the identification of novel semiochemicals including aphid sex pheromone components (Dewhirst et al., 2008), an aggregation pheromone for house dust mites (Skelton et al., 2007, 2010) and poultry mites (UK patent filing), botanically-derived arthropod repellents (Bruce et al., 2005; Birkett et al., 2008; Ukeh et al., 2009, 2010) and signals underlying animal and human interaction with mosquitoes (Logan et al., 2008), biting midges (Logan et al., 2009), horn flies (Vagn-Jensen et al., 2004; Birkett et al., 2004; Oyarzun et al., 2009) and sea lice (Bailey et al., 2006; Mordue and Birkett, 2009). The studies on host/ectoparasite interactions have provided underpinning science for the development of novel repellents for livestock and human protection. I have also contributed to understanding the chemical basis of defence activation in model (Arabidopsis thaliana) and major global crops (wheat and soybean) by cis-jasmone (Bruce et al., 2008; Moraes et al., 2008; Moraes et al., 2009).
In 2010, I was promoted on scientific merit to the level of Principal Investigator within the group, and appointed as Deputy Head of the Biological Chemistry Department.
I am a Principal Investigator for the Chemical Ecology Group at Rothamsted, leading chemical studies on the identification of semiochemicals (naturally occurring behaviour- and development-modifying chemicals) that can be developed for use in novel and sustainable crop, human and animal health protection strategies. I am the Principal mass spectrometrist for the Chemical Ecology group, which involves overseeing the operation of the group mass spectrometry facilities (VG Autospec-Ultima and Thermo-Finnigan MAT95XP-trap instruments) for analysis, primarily by MS, GC-MS and LC-MS, of biological samples prepared by myself and other scientists within the group, and also the characterisation of compounds using high resolution mass spectrometry. My responsibilities include structure elucidation of (i) biologically active compounds (e.g. insect pheromones), located by electrophysiology coupled to high resolution gas chromatography (GC-EAG), often involving investigations of minute (sub-nanogram) amounts of chemicals in extremely complex mixtures (ii) plant defence signals that mediate plant/insect and plant/plant interactions (iii) insect-derived elicitors of plant defence and (iv) semiochemicals that mediate interactions in the rhizosphere.
My team within the Chemical Ecology group includes a senior research scientist (Christine Woodcock (electrophysiology)) and 3 post-doctoral scientists (John Caulfield (mass spectrometry), Patrick Mayon (synthetic organic chemistry) and Sarah Dewhirst (chemical ecology)). I am also a supervisor for two Rothamsted International Post-Doctoral Fellows (Mahabalashwar Hegde and Elsherbiny Elsherbiny), a Hungarian Research Fellow (Jozsef Vuts) and co-supervisor for 3 PhD students (Emma Weeks and James Cook in BCH, Ayano Sasaki-Crawley in PPI).
I am the co-ordinator for collaborative projects in Chemical Ecology at Rothamsted involving Latin American countries, primarily with Institutes in Brazil, but also in Chile.
Current research interests
My specific research interests focus on:
(i) The identification of insect pheromones (sex, aggregation) for major pests affecting crop, livestock and human health, and volatile semiochemicals that mediate host and mate location/selection behaviour, including:
a) Identification of sex pheromones for Coleptera and Hemiptera crop pests
collaborative with the Dr Mary Cameron, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Dr Simon Carpenter, Institute for Animal Health, and Dr Miguel Borges, EMBRAPA, Brazil.
(ii) Elucidation of biosynthesis of vertebrate-derived repellents and the genetic basis of repellency in livestock
(iii) Understanding signalling processes involved in plant defence activation, including:
a) rhizosphere plant-plant signalling
collaborative with Professor Emilio Guerrieri, Institute for Plant Protection
b) arthropod-derived elicitors
collaborative with Professor Robert Glinwood, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
c) “priming” crop plants for defence
d) elucidating the biosynthesis of cis-jasmone in plants
collaborative with Professor Ruedi Allemann, Cardiff University
(iv) Investigating animal-derived toxins as natural product leads for new insecticides
Measures of Esteem/Professional Positions
Major grants awarded in last 5 years:
Technical Co-Operation Project with EMBRAPA, Brazil: “Semiochemical Strategies” (Grant awarded 475,033 GBP, 2010-2015). (Co-ordinator)
BBSRC Responsive Mode Grant: “Rational Design of Sesquiterpene Signals with Enhanced Stability Using a Synthetic Biology Approach” (Grant awarded 598,783 GBP, 2011-2014). (Co-investigator)
BBSRC-DFID Combating Infectious Diseases of Livestock in International Development (CIDLID) Grant: “Epidemiology and Control of Bluetongue Virus Vectors in India” (Grant awarded 258,760 GBP, 2010-2013). (Co-investigator)
BBSRC Responsive Mode Grant: “Elucidating the Chemical Ecology of Belowground Plant-Plant Communication” (Grant awarded 531,978 GBP, 2010-2013). (Co-investigator)
Heptagon PCF: “Development of a Lure-and-Kill Formulation for Controlling House Dust Mites in the Domestic Environment” (Grant awarded 74,968 GBP, 2009-2011). (Co-investigator)
Gates Foundation “Traps and Repellents for the Control of African Sleeping Sickness (Grant awarded 183,806 GBP, 2007 – 2011) (Co-investigator)
Wyeth TMRC Grant: “Identification of Novel Biomarkers for Endometriosis” (Grant awarded 154,000 GBP, 2009-2011) (Co-investigator)
DTI-LINK Grant: “A Green Chemistry Approach for Separating Pure Isomers on Insect Attractants” (Grant awarded 91,756 GBP, 2007-2008). (Co-investigator)
European Union: “Tsetse flies and the Control of African Sleeping Sickness” (Grant awarded 365,442 GBP, 2007-2010). (Co-investigator)
BBSRC Follow-on Fund Grant: “Development of House Dust Mite Semiochemicals and Plant-Derived Acaricides for their Use in Controlling Populations in the Domestic Environment” (Grant awarded 109,336 GBP, 2006-2007). (Co-investigator)
Selected lectures given since 2005