Dr. Natalie Ferry

School of Science, Engineering and Environment

Photo of Dr. Natalie Ferry

Contact Details

Peel Building Room G30

Please email for an appointment.

ORCID

Current positions

Senior Lecturer in Biotechnology; Programme Leader for MSc Drug Design & Discovery, Biotechnology and Biomedical Science

Biography

My first degree was in Plant Science from the University of Durham.  Following this I developed an interest in Genetically Modified Crops and studied for my PhD at the University of Newcastle working on the environmental impact of GM crops. I worked as a postdoctoral scientist at Newcastle University for 6 years, focusing initially on cell wall degrading enzymes (with Prof Harry Gilbert) and then the Molecular basis of Plant-Insect Interactions (with Prof Angharad Gatehouse).  

I took my lectureship in Biotechnology at the University of Salford in 2010 where my research now focuses on identifying plant cell wall degrading enzymes from under-studied environments, GM crops and plant peptides.  

Areas of research

Biofuel, Metagenome, Glycosyl Hydrolase, Invertebrate, Recombinant Protein

Teaching

I am Programme Leader for MSc Biotechnology, Drug Design and Discovery and Biomedical Science.  Due to my interests and research background in biotechnology I lead several modules in this subject area including at Level 7 Green Biotechnology and at Level 6 the Biotechnology module.

I also contribute to level 7 Molecular Biology and Proteomics, Postgraduate Scholarship Skills, Research Design and Delivery and Professional Practice.  I offer a range of research projects at both level 6 and 7 focusing mainly on the biochemical characterization of plant cell wall degrading enzymes and the use of 16S rDNA PCR to identify the microbial consortia involved in cellulose degradation in invertebrate guts.  At MSc level projects focus on the production of recombinant proteins and screening of metagenomic libraries.

Research Interests

My research is primarily focused on agricultural biotechnology and plant cell wall degradation.

Biofuels (primarily liquid transportation fuels derived from plant biomass) can potentially lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, although they have been widely criticised for contributing to extensive farming and raised food prices in developing countries. Therefore the move towards renewable bio-alcohol based transportation fuels is in progress. The EU is committed to the replacement of 10-20% of current transportation fuels with renewables by 2020.

However current technology platforms rely on the supply of sugar from crop plants for conversion (fermentation to alcohol).  Should we be able to degrade and release the sugars locked in plant cell wall polymers (lignin, hemicellulose and cellulose) as an alternative then raw materials could be sourced from non-edible/waste plant parts (second generation biofuels).

Over the past 5 years the Ferry lab have identified and cloned 2,500 enzymes that successfully break down plant biomass by screening understudied environments (such as the microbial consortia found in invertebrate guts).  In the last year a suite of enzymes that degrade hemicellulose specifically have been expressed as recombinant proteins. This is particularly important as the industrial focus has been on cellulose, where-as should the degradation of hemicellulose be enabled then the cost per gallon of bio-alcohols falls below that of the cost of crude oil.

 

Thus my research focuses on:

Novel lignocellulose degrading enzymes.

Biochemical conversion of biomass advantageously preserves the original carbohydrate structures in the form of monomeric sugars and enzyme technology is generally considered the most sustainable technology for saccharification. However, despite large efforts in the past, the (in)efficiency of enzymatic hydrolysis of lignocellulosic materials remains a key limiting step.  My work aims to construct metagenomic libraries from the guts of invertebrates known to digest lignocellulose and screen for novel enzymes.

Production of recombinant proteins.

Cloning and expression of candidate enzymes from metagenomic libraries.

Enzyme-Nanoparticle Conjugates.

Due to their high surface-to volume ratio and high surface energy nanoparticles can adsorb on their surfaces large amounts of biologically-relevant molecules, including enzymes.  In collaboration with Dr Zeljka Krpetic we aim to improve the design and manufacturing of a multimodal bio-nanotechnology-based nanoplatform which will overcome the limitation of reduced conjugated enzyme activity and deliver the improvement of plant cell wall degradation for biofuel (applied catalysis).

My lab is also interested in the molecular basis of plant-insect interactions and the screening of plants and insects for novel proteins and peptides.

Investigating Plant-Insect Interactions at the Molecular Level. Plant responses to insect feeding (and other forms of stress) are highly complex and multidimensional. A key focus is characterizing the plant responses to herbivory using proteomics approaches.

Plant peptides. Recent work has included the cloning and expression of specific regions of plant lectins to (a) specifically recognise cancer cells and (b) to deliver either a toxin or siRNA into a cell.

Qualifications and Memberships

Qualifications

  • PhD (2004) University of Newcastle
  • PgCert in Academic Practice, University of Salford

Memberships

  • FHEA: Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA)
  • Member of Ecosystems and Environment Research Centre
  • Associate member of the Biomedical Research Centre