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Hosted by Dr Yin Dong



This seminar is intended for the personnel and students at the University of Oxford and the Oxford University Hospitals Foundation Trust.

Hybrid seminar at the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (WIMM) or on Teams. For the online link, please email

Students, postdoctoral researchers, and other trainees will be invited to have lunch with Prof Davis following the talk - register here


Our work studies the interplay of biomolecules – proteins, sugars, lipids and their modifications. Synthetic Biology’s development at the start of this century may be compared with Synthetic Organic Chemistry’s expansion at the start of the last; after decades of isolation, identification, analysis and functional confirmation, the future logical and free-ranging redesign of biomacromolecules offers tantalizing opportunities to dissect mechanism and control function in physiology and biology.

This lecture will cover past and emerging areas in our group in the manipulation of biomolecules with an emphasis on new bond-forming and bond-breaking processes compatible with biology and using those to understand molecular mechanisms. 

(i) New methods: the development of precise methods that may be applied to biology at a posttranslational level, generating minimal ‘scars’ or ‘traces’ (ideally ‘trace’-less), could allow broad control of function. This will allow applications beyond simple ‘labeling biology’ or retrieval biology’. The development of chemo- and regio-selective methods with potential to posttranslationally ‘edit’ biology in this way, applied under benign conditions to redesign and reprogramme the structure and function of biomolecules, will be presented.

(ii) ‘Synthetic Biologics’ and their applications: biomimicry; functional recapitulation; effector [drug/agrochemical/gene/radio-dose] delivery; selective protein degradation; inhibitors of pathogen interactions; non-invasive presymptopmatic disease diagnosis; probes and modulators of in vitro and in vivo function illustrate possible resulting technologies.


Ben Davis got his B.A. (1993) and D.Phil. (1996) from the University of Oxford. During this time he learnt the beauty of carbohydrate chemistry under the supervision of Professor George Fleet. He then spent 2 years as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Professor Bryan Jones at the University of Toronto, exploring protein chemistry and biocatalysis.

In 1998 he returned to the U.K. to take up a lectureship at the University of Durham. In the autumn of 2001 he moved to the Dyson Perrins Laboratory, University of Oxford and received a fellowship at Pembroke College, Oxford. He was promoted to Full Professor in 2005. In late 2019 he became the Science Director for Next Generation Chemistry at the Rosalind Franklin Institute.

His group's research centres on the chemical understanding and exploitation of biomolecular function (Synthetic Biology, Chemical Biology and Chemical Medicine), with an emphasis on carbohydrates and proteins. In particular, the group's interests encompass synthesis and methodology; target biomolecule synthesis; inhibitor/probe/substrate design; biocatalysis; enzyme & biomolecule mechanism; biosynthetic pathway determination; protein engineering; drug delivery; molecular biology; structural biology; cell biology; glycobiology; molecular imaging and in vivo biology.

This work has been recognised by Prizes and Awards and named Lecturerships.

He sits (has sat) on the Editorial / Editorial Advisory Boards of Carbohydrate Research (2005-2012), Chemical Biology and Drug Design (2006-), Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry (2006-2011), the Biochemical Journal (Advisory Board 2002-2005, Editorial Board 2009-2016), Chemical Science (2010-2012, 2015-) and ChemBioChem (2011-).

He was the Editor-in-Chief of Bioorganic Chemistry (2011-2013), Editor-in-Chief of Current Opinion in Chemical Biology (2011-2019) and an Associate Editor of Chemical Science (2012-14). He is curently a Senior Editor for ACS Central Science (2014-).

In 2005 he was elected the UK representative and Secretary (2005-2013) of the European Carbohydrate Organisation and from 2011-2014 the President of the RSC Chemical Biology Division.

Ben Davis was/is co-founder of Glycoform, a biotechnology company that from 2002-2011 investigated the therapeutic potential of synthetic glycoproteins; of Oxford Contrast a company investigating the use of molecular imaging for brain disease; of SugaROx a company that uses bond-breaking methods in planta to control and stimulate plant growth and productivity and of Scindo, a cleantech company started by former DPhil student Gustaf Hemberg that is harnessing the power of enzymes to recycle the unrecyclables. In 2003 he was named among the top young innovators in the world by Technology Review, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)'s magazine of innovation in the TR35 awards and was a finalist in the BBSRC Innovator of the Year competition in 2010.

He was elected to the Royal Society in 2015.

Ben Davis