Ben Abell

Dr Ben Abell BSc, PhD, FHEA

Senior Lecturer In Plant Biochemistry


I teach and research in plant molecular biology. This is based on PhD and postdoctoral research totalling 11 years in the UK and Canada before arriving at Sheffield Hallam University. Since 2006 I have continued research as principal investigator of a research group. My research experience is applied to teaching to deliver plant biology modules that promote active learning and develop research skills.


My fascination with plant biology started during my undergraduate studies at the University of Cambridge, and continued to develop via PhD research at the University of Calgary (Canada). A further six years of postdoctoral research at the University of Manchester allowed me to advance my research skills and to tackle fundamental questions about how proteins are organised within cells.


I teach in the general areas of molecular and cellular biology, with a particular interest in plant biology. Key modules are plant physiology & anatomy, and plant biotechnology, which are core for the BSc Biology course and MSc Biotechnology.                                                                                                                                                                   
I am also the programme leader for the Integrated Masters awards of MSci and MChem, which provides students with an opportunity to extend their research skills during an additional year of study after completing their BSc Hons study.                                                                                             
I believe that it is important to integrate research into university teaching, and to achieve this I have designed modules to facilitate enquiry-based learning. This provides an active and effective way for students to deal with the vast quantities of information currently being generated in the biosciences. This learning style also develops skills valued by employers such as problem solving, teamwork, and communication.


I lead a research group in the Biomolecular Sciences Research Centre, funded by external agencies such as the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and the Biochemical Society. Our common theme is investigating how proteins and RNA are delivered to their correct destination within cells, a universal process that can result in disease when it malfunctions.

To analyse protein locations we use techniques such as protein expression, cellular fractionation, and confocal fluorescence microscopy. Our work has generated publications in international science journals, and we present our work at international conferences. The research group also supports undergraduate students in their first experience of professional research, which is particularly valuable for progressing to postgraduate education.

Current research projects are:

  • Viroid trafficking in plant cells: determining the mechanisms of RNA import into the chloroplast, which is a crucial step in the lifecycle of viroids.
  • Membrane proteins in translational control: characterisation of membrane-bound protein complexes associated with eIF2B, which regulates protein synthesis, and is important in neurological disease.
  • Tail-anchored membrane proteins: investigating the targeting and membrane insertion mechanisms, which is important due to the wide range of core cellular functions performed by these proteins.

My research is conducted in collaboration with other members of the research centre and several external researchers:

  • Dr Neil Boonham (Food and Environment Research Agency, York) to investigate the chloroplast import of viroid RNA
  • Dr Caroline Bowsher (University of Manchester) to implement competitive targeting assays to chloroplasts and mitochondria
  • Prof Stephen High (University of Manchester) to implement competitive targeting assays to ER membranes using plant components
  • Dr Alexei Nabok (Materials and Engineering Research Institute, SHU) to apply ellipsometry analysis to membrane protein interactions
  • Prof William Skach (Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, USA) to use photo-activated crosslinkers for the study of oil bodies
  • Dr John Ward (Loughborough University) to conduct mathematical modelling of protein targeting
  • Dr Jason Young (McGill University, Canada) to investigate the role of chaperones and chaperone receptors in TA protein targeting


Journal articles

Norris, K., Hodgson, R., Dornelles, T., Allen, K.E., Abell, B., Ashe, M.P., & Campbell, S.G. (2020). Mutational analysis of the alpha subunit of eIF2B provides insights into the role of eIF2B bodies in translational control and VWM disease. Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Leonenko, Z., Smith, R.A.S., Nabok, A., Blakeman, B.J.F., Xue, W.-.F., Abell, B., & Smith, D.P. (2015). Analysis of toxic amyloid fibril interactions at natively derived membranes by ellipsometry. PLOS ONE, 10 (7), e0132309.

Dobson, S., Sukumar, A., Ridley-Duff, R., Roast, C., & Abell, B. (2015). Reciprocity and resilience: teaching and learning sustainable social enterprise through gaming. Journal of Organisational Transformation & Social Change, 12 (1), 42-56.

Kriechbaumer, V., von Loffelholz, O., & Abell, B. (2012). Chaperone receptors: guiding proteins to intracellular compartments. Protoplasma, 249 (1), 21-30.

Kriechbaumer, V., Nabok, A., Widdowson, R., Smith, D., & Abell, B. (2012). Quantification of ligand binding to g-protein coupled receptors on cell membranes by ellipsometry. PLoS ONE, 7 (9), e46221.

Kriechbaumer, V., Wang, P., Hawes, C., & Abell, B. (2012). Alternative splicing of the auxin biosynthesis gene YUCCA4 determines its subcellular compartmentation. The Plant Journal, 70 (2), 292-302.

Kriechbaumer, V., Nabok, A., Mustafa, M., Al-Ammar, R., Tsargorodskaya, A., Smith, D., & Abell, B. (2012). Analysis of protein interactions at native chloroplast membranes by ellipsometry. PLoS ONE, 7 (3), e34455.

Kriechbaumer, V., & Abell, B.M. (2012). Chloroplast envelope protein targeting fidelity is independent of cytosolic components in dual organelle assays. Frontiers in plant science, 3, 148.

Von Loeffelholz, O., Kriechbaumer, V., Eward, R.A., Joncyk, R., Lehmann, S., Young, J.C., & Abell, B.M. (2011). OEP61 is a chaperone receptor at the plastid outer envelope. Biochemical Journal, 438 (1), 143-153.

Abell, B., & Mullen, R.T. (2011). Tail-anchored membrane proteins: exploring the complex diversity of tail-anchored-protein targeting in plant cells. Plant Cell Reports, 30 (2), 137-151.

Kriechbaumer, V., Tsargorodskaya, A., Mustafa, M., Vinogradova, T., Lacey, J., Smith, D., ... Nabok, A. (2011). Study of receptor-chaperone interactions using the optical technique of spectroscopic ellipsometry. Biophysical Journal, 101 (2), 504-511.

Kriechbaumer, V., Shaw, R., Mukherjee, J., Bowsher, C.G., Harrison, A.-.M., & Abell, B. (2009). Subcellular distribution of tail-anchored proteins in Arabidopsis. Traffic, 10 (12), 1753-1764.

Abell, B., Rabu, C., Leznicki, P., Young, J.C., & High, S. (2007). Post-translational integration of tail-anchored proteins is facilitated by defined molecular chaperones. Journal of Cell Science (JCS), 120 (10), 1743-1751.

High, S., & Abell, B.M. (2004). Tail-anchored protein biosynthesis at the endoplasmic reticulum: the same but different. Biochemical Society transactions, 32 (Pt 5), 659-662.

Abell, B., Pool, M.R., Schlenker, O., Sinning, I., & High, S. (2004). Signal recognition particle mediates post-translational targeting in eukaryotes. The EMBO Journal, 23 (14), 2755-2764.

Abell, B., Hahn, M., Holbrook, L.A., & Moloney, M.M. (2004). Membrane topology and sequence requirements for oil body targeting of oleosin. The Plant Journal, 37 (4), 461-470.

Abell, B., Jung, M., Oliver, J.D., Knight, B.C., Tyedmers, J., Zimmermann, R., & High, S. (2003). Tail-anchored and signal-anchored proteins utilize overlapping pathways during membrane insertion. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 278 (8), 5669-5678.

Abell, B.M., High, S., & Moloney, M.M. (2002). Membrane protein topology of oleosin is constrained by its long hydrophobic domain. The Journal of biological chemistry, 277 (10), 8602-8610.

High, S., Lecomte, F.J., Russell, S.J., Abell, B.M., & Oliver, J.D. (2000). Glycoprotein folding in the endoplasmic reticulum: a tale of three chaperones? FEBS letters, 476 (1-2), 38-41.

Abell, B.M., Holbrook, L.A., Abenes, M., Murphy, D.J., Hills, M.J., & Moloney, M.M. (1997). Role of the proline knot motif in oleosin endoplasmic reticulum topology and oil body targeting. The Plant cell, 9 (8), 1481-1493.

Theses / Dissertations

Smith, R.A.-.S. (2015). Detection of protein interactions at cellular membranes using total internal reflection ellipsometry. (Doctoral thesis). Supervised by Abell, B., & Smith, D.

Vickers, L. (2013). Heterologous expression of Chlamydia trachomatis polymorphic membrane proteins for in vitro studies. (Doctoral thesis). Supervised by Hadden, D., & Abell, B.

Other activities

I am a member of the editorial board for Frontiers in Plant Science, which is an open-access scientific journal publishing research and review articles. I also review a wide range of research manuscripts for other international journals and grant applications for the UK research councils.
As part of my research activities I am a member of the Biochemical Society.

Cancel event

Are you sure you want to cancel your place on Saturday 12 November?